This paper was originally delivered to the Masonic Study Society,
London in 1923
THE WORKING TOOLS OF AN OLD YORK MASTER
By W. Bro. W. L. Wilmshurst, P.A.G.D.C.
In certain Lodges in Yorkshire and elsewhere, where the impressive
"Old York working" still lingers, three other Working Tools
are known besides those allotted to the Three Degrees. They formerly
belonged to the now obsolete Past Master's Degree or Degree of
Installed Master and were presented and explained to a new Master of
a Lodge on his installation, Brethren below that rank remaining
ignorant of them.
After the union of the two rival Grand Lodges in 1813 the
Constitutions provided that only the three Degrees of Apprentice,
Fellowcraft, and Master Mason (plus the Royal Arch) were to be
recognised. The Degree of Installed Master was therefore
unfortunately dropped and the enthronement of a Master of a Lodge now
takes place in the Third Degree, though in the presence of a "Board"
of Past Masters only, the working of such "Board" being the
emasculated remains of the old Degree of Installed Master.
Notwithstanding the abandonment of the latter Degree, many old
pre-Union Lodges, jealous of their traditional ritual and unwilling
to accept abridged modern standardisations such as the "Emulation"
working, stubbornly clung to some valuable pieces of traditional
teaching and brought them over into what is now the Installation
Ceremony, where they are still worked (not always with the approval
of critical but not well-enlightened formalists of to-day). One of
these is the three Working Tools of an Installed Master; tools
specially associated with the office of a Brother called to undertake
the responsible office of Master of a Lodge and to serve as a Ruler
in the Craft.
The first of these tools is a Plumb-line, a cord depending from
the fingers, with a plummet at the lower end, to enable the Master to
determine the uprightness of a given stone or building. (On the walls
of the old Lodge-room at York, where once the Grand Lodge of England
met, may still be seen the biblical reference to the use of the
Plumb-line in Amos 7, 7-8. Similar references are to be found in
Zech. 4, io; Isaiah 28, 17; whilst Rev. 21, r5-17 is of similar
The second is a Trowel, an implement for spreading mortar, with
which (in its moral sense) the Master is to spread the cement of love
among his Brethren and bind the living stones of his Lodge into
The third (and most significant) is a Plan, containing secret
designs to which an Installed Master must work; it is, as it were, a
symbolical blue-print of the Great Architect's plan for building the
Temple of a perfected Humanity, a plan of such privacy that it is
entrusted only to those qualified to know it and to co-operate in its
Note here that the first of these tools (the Plumb-line) forms a
vertical line; the second (the Trowel) involves a lateral horizontal
spreading movement; and that these two in combination make a Cross.
Of this Cross we will say more presently.
The rich significance and deep propriety of these three supreme
Tools needs no emphasis here. It is a thousand pities that this
luminous piece of Masonic tradition has passed out of general use and
that these tools and their implications are now largely unknown among
Masons. For are they not emblems giving completeness and final point
to the whole series of Working Tools from the First Degree upwards;
adding crowning dignity and beauty to the entire structure of Craft
symbolism, and throwing a strong illuminating beam of light upon the
purpose of Initiation and upon the goal to which it leads men, first
from darkness to light, and then from light to active collaboration
with Deity in the creative work of building new heavens and a new
earth? Masonry being "a progressive science" must needs
involve the use of progressive Working Tools, of which these three
are the most advanced.
There is another reason for regretting their disuse. Were they
known and their significance taught and appreciated, the knowledge
would go far to counteract the utterly false and unworthy notion that
installation in the Throne of Wisdom is a personal compliment to the
new Master or that the office is due to him by virtue of seniority or
routine or popularity, or because he has been an efficient officer or
is good at ritual. The prospective occupant of the Chair would learn,
on the contrary, that he is placed in it not for his own or his
Lodge's glory or to make a great feast for himself and his friends,
but to advance the glory of God and the cosmic work of building the
world into the divine image.
For consider. By being entrusted with the Plumb-line he is
impliedly delegated to be the skilled tester and rectifier of the
souls of those committed to his charge. How shall he be qualified to
use it if he himself cannot pass the test of that Tool or be
unconscious of his own soul ending as a "silver cord" from
the fingers of the Almighty and in direct communion with Him?
As to the Trowel, how shall he be able to use it or hope to spread
the cement of love among his Brethren unless his own soul has become
a burning centre of love whose radiance subtly welds them into unity,
knitting their separated persons into an inseparable group-soul and
"making them to be of one mind in an house"?
Lastly, but chief of all-the Plan. How can a man of any
imagination or spiritual sensitiveness think of himself being made
privy to the secret counsels of the Almighty and permitted to become
a co-worker with the Most High and His heavenly hierarchy, without
the deepest sense of awe, unworthiness, and self-abasement?
But apart from this general sense the Tools signify much besides.
Tools not merely express abstract ideas; they are implements with
which some practical work must be done. How, then, does an Installed
Master use these tools? What sort of work does he perform with them?
Well, here we get to secrets; those "secrets of the Master's
Chair" which every new W.M. is sworn to preserve but of the
nature of which he is usually completely ignorant. Can any P.M. who
reads this say what those secrets are, Save for certain formal ones,
pretty certainly he will have to say ''no.''
They cannot, of course, be discussed here but one hint can be
given. It was said above that the vertical Plumb-line and the
horizontal line of motion of the Trowel combine to form a Cross, thus
+ or the Hebrew Tau-Cross T. The latter form is displayed on every
P.M.'s apron; it appears on the badge with which every newly
installed Master is invested, and implies that he knows its meaning
and is expected to make use of it. Moreover its component lines are
exhibited separately in the two columns on the Wardens' pedestals,
one of which is always erect and the other horizontal. No column
appears on the Master's pedestal. Why? Because he is the synthesis of
the Wardens' columns, combining their properties in himself. The
Master is a Cross, a living Cross, and therefore wears the sign of
the Cross upon his clothing. The profound implications of this must
he left to personal reflection.
We refrain here from religious discussion and from reference to
Christian associations. We are dealing with the Cross as a
philosophical conception long antedating Christianity and taught in
the mysteries of both the East and the West through the ages and
perpetuated in our system. As Plato and others voicing the ancient
secret doctrine taught, the world itself is built upon the principle
of the Cross, and is a manifestation resulting from the conflict of
two opposed principles (spiritual and material) which have to be
resolved into a unity transcending the dualism (just as the W.M.
absorbs the functions of his two subordinate Wardens and transcends
them). To "take up one's Cross" is deliberately to engage
in the work of resolving the crux of life by reducing the spiritual
and the non-spiritual elements in oneself into balance and harmony.
That is the "Great Work,'' it is Masonic "labour" in
its highest sense; in proportion as one achieves it in oneself one
becomes qualified and able to help in the task of world-building.
Moreover, a Master of the secret science employs the sign of the
Cross for many purposes; "Per Signum Tau" is an ancient
formula used in connection with constructive and beneficent work done
by such a man, unknown to his less advanced fellows.
It may be useful to sum up about the Working Tools generally as
1. The use of the Tools is to effect the conquest of one's lower
nature and will by the powers of one's higher nature and the
spiritual will. One who is not master of himself and of his lower
faculties cannot function on loftier levels or understand the nature
of cosmic work. "He who is faithful in small things shall become
ruler over great things."
2. The understanding and the use of the Tools are progressive and
become disclosed more and more as one advances. It is hopeless to
understand the more advanced Tools (those of the Third Degree and of
an Installed Master) until the use of the First and Second Degree
Tools has become the habit of one's life.
3. The First Degree Tools provide a rule for outward objective
conduct; the Second Degree Tools a rule for the mental subjective
life and include all forms of abstract thought (not necessarily
religious), meditation, prayer, and mind-control, leading to
perception of supra-mental truth and illumination of the lower mind.
The Third Degree Tools are only for those whose consciousness has
become "raised" above the life of common reason and
every-day events; and these, in turn, open the way to the ''secrets
of the Master's Chair" and to knowledge of "The Plan,"
that Divine Building Scheme at furthering which labour principalities
and Powers, Angels and advanced men. Hence the Plan is the supreme
Working Tool of our system and the last to be communicated
ceremonially, since it is the final all-sufficing revelation to flood
the intelligence of the aspiring Mason. When one knows that
Plan, knows oneself to be part of it and as called to collaborate
with it, and sees everything around one as moving gradually though
unconsciously to its fulfillment, one's life-difficulties are at an
end, The rest is easy, for, vast as still remains the unfinished
work, that work is frictionless and joyous because it is identified
and in harmony with the Almighty Will that steers the universe to its
Let me finish with a story illustrative of the use of the Tools. A
man seen loitering and apparently idle in a lonely district was asked
what he was doing there. He replied that he was building, a temple at
a city many leagues away. "Do you think it necessary" (he
said) "for me to be there in person and working physically?
Others are doing that who know nothing of me, but who are
unconsciously influenced by the directive control of my thought and
will.'' That man was a Master Mason.
Now it will be real and useful Masonic exercise (1) to think out
clearly and in detail how that man made use of the Third Degree
Working Tools, and (2) to realise that the Great Architect has built
and sustains the universe upon the same principle and by like
methods. You are unlikely to reach a solution all at once, but
careful persistent thought upon such a subject opens out the mind and
enables the inward Teacher to reveal things one has hitherto thought
impossible and inconceivable.
Treat the story as fanciful and incredible if you will, but
reflect that a few years ago any form of telekinesis (action at a
distance) was so deemed; yet to-day telegraphy, telephony,
"wireless,'' and telepathy, are commonplace facts. Now if by his
merely natural will and surface-wits man has produced these
mechanical marvels, what greater miracles must be possible to him
when the higher creative potencies dormant in his soul are awakened
and he becomes able to wield his spiritual will and faculties, to
manipulate cosmic energy and to mould it into building new heavens
and a new earth and a new social order. It is certain we are left to
do these things for ourselves; we should never appreciate them if
they be done for us. But the Power with which to do them will always
be provided and available to us.
"Coming events cast their shadows before.'' "First the
natural; afterwards the spiritual.'' Evolution is being speeded up at
the present time. The scientific mechanical inventions of our day are
shadow's and advance-omens of greater truths yet to be learned and
practised upon a higher level by the still latent supermechanical
faculties in us. Is there not an old promise: ''Greater things than
these shall ye do'' . For this reason Masonic "science" and
the understanding of spiritual building-principle, and working tools
are to-day of momentous value and privilege to Masons individually
and, through them, to the world at large.