Sunday, October 5, 2008

The beautiful flooring of the Lodge

Author and Date unknown

Commenting that "the beautiful flooring of the Lodge" (first tracing board lecture) seemed to vary from Lodge to Lodge, a Brother asks whence the floor covering derives.

According to ritual the floor covering should comprise Mosaic or squared pavement, a tessellated border, a sun in centre, and four tassels, one in each corner. To complete the symbolism for one interpretation (that of the Tabernacle origin) the tassels should be linked together by a rope surrounding the tessellation, (Incidentally, that tessellation is a curiosity in Craft decoration; it comes from. or is left over from, the Royal Arch. Reminding us that in the evolution of Degrees the Arch was once part of the MM degree.) However, the lecture description is not always followed; pavement only (without border), pavement without sun, and so on; there seems to be no firm rule even in Free-masons Hall rooms.

It is probable that Freemasonic Lodges, even in operative-only days, had symbolic flooring. The earliest Speculative minutes extant, those of the old Dundee Lodge, London. date 1724, disclose that in 1724 there were such; and that at least from 1724 to 1782 the symbolization was laid down nightly by the Tyler.

This duty was called Framing and Forming the Lodge, and was done in sand, chalk and charcoal, the Tyler being paid 1/6d a Lodge night for the work, In those days all Lodges were held in taverns (inns, public houses; pubs in modern vernacular). Indeed, even today Lodges in Britain meet in Lodge rooms provided by hotels, have in some instances done so in the same hotel for over 100 years; and Grand Lodge by laws still ordain that no publican may hold office in a Lodge where he provides the room of meeting. Taverns in the 1700's, humble places, almost always had strong floors (of tile, slate, or granite, or sandstone flat sets called flags), which were sanded as a means of soaking up slop, dregs and spittle.

The Tyler framer scooped away the sand in lines and patterns and coloured the bared tile with chalk or clay for white and charcoal for black. These substances were themselves given symbolic import as representing freedom, zeal and fervency, though that probably was a ritualist's afterthought undreamed in 1724.

There were no fixed symbols on the de-sanded tiles; the tyler, usually not a lettered or artistic, but a serving Brother, doing his humble best as limner*.

Columns, steps, pavement crisscross, dormer. letter G, square, level and plumb, broken pillar, tomb of Hiram, beehives and pots of manna are mentioned as figuring in Tyler art.

At the end of the night's proceedings it was the candidate's role, as a lesson in labour and humility, with broom and water pail to wash away the symbolic design. This washed away also all record of what the symbols were, which no doubt accounts for the paucity of knowledge about this phase of floor decoration.

Next stage in floor covering assumes transfer from tavern tiles to more gracious wooden floor, for the outline of the Lodge design was marked out with tapes, stretched tight and tacked down, with the symbols (now done by someone more artistic than the Tyler) set out with templates and stencils. The tapes were lifted and the decoration still washed away when, the Lodge rose. They were very cautious about secrets in those days.

In 1733 a floor sheet is recorded; the symbols drawn on a calico background; and such sheets are mentioned in Masonic record in 1755, 1800.1808 and 1811. Lodge over, the sheet was rolled up and stored away, Specimens, cracked and faded, are still treasured in English Masonic archives and museums; true documents in Masonic history.

In 1771 a Lodge at Bury; England, evidently owner of its Lodge building, had the symbols painted on the floor; a non-movable decoration.

About 1760 the old floor symbols appeared on a wall, not floor, sheets; precursor of the suspended tracing board, until then a true board on a trestle, hence the term of trestle board. Such sheets (of 1760, 1772 and 1779) remain in English Masonic Archives.

As with the floor sheets. designs on wall sheets were unstable, much at the whim of artists, though one of 1825 was in design virtually the First Tracing Board of today.

In 1800 attempts were made to standardize floor coverings and wall sheets, and by 1820 several London Craftsmen produced wall boards and sheets to a Grand Lodge approved pattern; the result being our present tracing boards, the floor-of-the-lodge design becoming that of the First.

By the early 19th century Freemasonry was becoming prosperous and above tavern association was becoming less. Freemasons were acquiring their own premises, consecrating rooms and given the name of temple, for exclusive Lodge use, and fitting the rooms with rich flooring and furniture.

Thus came the "beautiful flooring of the Lodge" carried out In real marble squaring and tessellation, in carpentry, and then (linoleum having been invented) in the lino that is almost standard today,

That Black and Empty North

Commenting on the formula now used in ritual when EAs and FCs are asked to retire before a Lodge is passed or raised, or a candidate is about to be examined and given passing sign and word, a correspondent asks why Wardens (and/or some other spokesman) are not questioned whether all Brethren due to retire have left the north of the Lodge. Appeal to Wardens is, of course, made because (see second Degree Tracing board lecture) Tyler's of the two Lodge (or Temple) portals; the junior of the outer gate; the senior of the inner chamber.

Symbolically there is a nothingness, a void, no light, no door, no furniture, no person in the north; in northern latitudes (whence we draw all our Masonic symbolism), the place of nearly continuous darkness, cold and discomfort, mythologically the place of Evil.

Even now, and in this southern latitude, we keep the north free of light and furniture. and only pass along it in ceremonial. We have, however, allowed it to become populated; indeed. in most Lodge rooms. owing to the south and west being occupied by pedestals, officers, organs, choirs and dais overflows, the north is the most populated compass point, and so most due for "screening" when junior: Brethren have to be temporarily dismissed. When ritual coordinators added to the old formula questions to Wardens to relieve the Master of his former sole responsibility to see the assembly properly screened, they adhered to the immemorial tradition of northern emptiness.

To secure a maximum of natural light in days when artificial lighting was very crude, the Lodges were set skillionwise against a southern wall of the rising structure, with embrasures east (to catch the rising), south (to enjoy the meridian), and west (to make most of the setting sun). The north of the lodge, against the blind wall of the building, was because unlighted, merely a passageway. We still use it as such.


Where did it originate and what is its meaning? Although the step can hardly be called a mode of recognition, history informs us that there was a peculiar step in the old E;gyptian Osiris Initiation which was deemed a sign, over 4000 years ago.

The steps can be traced back as far as at least the middle of the eighteenth century, in the rituals in which they are described. The custom of advancing in a peculiar manner and form, to some sacred place or elevated personage, has been preserved in the customs of all countries, especially among the Orientalists, who resort even to prostrations of the body when approaching the throne of the sovereign or the holy part of a religious edifice. The steps of Freemasonry are symbolic of respect and veneration for the altar, where Masonic light is to emanate.

Symbolically, the step means that a man, who joins Masonry, does thereby take a step forward in his evolution towards perfection and the fact that his identification as a Freemason begins with that step is a constant reminder and acknowledgement of that;

The left foot is advanced because it is nearest to the heart and symbolizes the intention, while the right foot is supposed to represent intellectual faculty. The meaning of the step is therefore obviously that in spiritual matters, intention always takes precedence over mere reasoning processes. The position adopted 'is intended to show that reason must always spring from the centre of right feeling.

* Limner is a term applied to the art of untrained and unnamed painters of the American Colonies, or to the artists themselves. Typically the art is ornamental decoration for signs, clock faces, fire buckets, fire screens, etc. The term is derived from illuminator.

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