Hello Fellow Travelers!
I'm proud to say that the following was recently published in the Florida Lodge of Research Magazine "Further Light".
THE ASHLAR UNFOLDED
Above all, stone is. It always remains itself, and exists of itself; … Rock shows him [mankind] something that transcends the precariousness of his humanity; an absolute mode of being. Its strength, its motionlessness, its size and its strange outlines are none of them human; they indicate the presence of something that fascinates, terrifies, attracts and threatens, all at once. In its grandeur, its hardness, its shape and its colour, man is faced with a reality and a force that belong to some world other than the profane world of which he is himself a part. (Mircea Eliade, Patterns in comparative religion, chap. 6)
If you’ve heard the word “Ashlar” used in Freemasonry, it’s because Masons work in Stone and Stone Work is a dominant Theme. The Words “Stone” and “Ashlar” are literal in their reference but figurative in any application in Masonic Work. The Stone that any Mason works is the Stone of a Mason’s Self. Worked Stone, as in “a Stone that is dressed in some fashion,” is called “Ashlar.” To understand more fully the reasons why the word “Stone” and “Ashlar” are used in Masonry though one must look into some of the history behind their references.
The use of the word “Stone” specifically derives from the understanding that Human Beings are a mix of both Spirit and Flesh. Reading this, one might at once raise a voice in protest by saying, “What do these have to do with Stone, which is neither Spirit nor Flesh?” The reasons may not be clear or obvious at first glance until further connections are uncovered. Let’s explore these connections further.
The spiritual aspect of our Being, is classically referred to as “The Father/Source”; the physical aspect of our Being, is classically referred to as “The Son.” When these two aspects are put forth using Hebrew words, “Father” is written as “AB” and it means “the Strength of the House”; “Son” is written as “BN” and it means “To Continue the House.”
Stone plays into this in a specific manner. By melding the Hebrew words for Father and Son or AB-BN, the Hebrew word for Stone “ABN” is created. When this word is used as a verb, ABN means, “Build”; when it is used as a noun, it means “Stone.” In that melding of the Spirit and Flesh, called humankind, “Built-Stone” is created. Above all, Masonry is the Craft of Working with this Built-Stone.
If you take a good look at the majority of Stone that exists in our world today, and all that has ever existed, you can easily see that most of it is locked up in earth. Further survey tells you immediately that most Stone is created “captured” by the surrounding aggregate and it is not free to do anything other than merely exist in that bound up state.
Some of this Stone though is released from the ground, which once held it firmly. This freed up Stone is just that, merely “freed up” and hence is quite appropriately called “Freestone.” Freestone is not Ashlar though. To become Ashlar, Freestone must be Worked or Dressed in some manner or form. Until it is, it is merely free.
After it is released from the ground and freed from the binds that held it in place, only Freestone with good Character may be selected for the Builder’s use.
Initially, Freestone that is Worked and roughly squared at the quarry is referred to as “Bastard Ashlar.” It has yet to be moved for use. It is however, further examined at this point to determine if it has the qualities that would be useful to the Builder. If it has detrimental flaws, character traits that show it to be missing elements that would cause failure should it be further Worked and then United with other Stones, the Builder will reject it. If it shows itself to be without these flaws and has good prospects for becoming a Perfect Ashlar, then the Builder may choose to remove it from the quarry for use.
Once an Ashlar is claimed and moved from the quarry for use though, this dressed Stone is referred to “Rough Ashlar.” It is called such because it was chosen for the Builder’s use but it has yet to be shaped and finished.
Rough Ashlar is Stone in an untutored, unpolished and unrefined state. Rough Ashlars are the state in which Future Masons arrive at and enter into Masonry. Candidates, in the Rough Ashlar state, have already been properly characterized as individuals whom are of high regard, well vouched for, of legal age, and a host of other considerations, depending on the Masonic Order of choice.
With entry into a Masonic Order, the Rough Ashlar, now Entered Apprentice, is introduced to a variety of Working tools during the Entered Apprentice Degree that are designed to help him in his further Stone Work. Since the Work to be done is to one’s own Stone, it’s up to the Entered Apprentice to learn how to use the Tools of the Craft well. For this to occur, other Stones called “Fellow Craft Masons” and “Master Masons” are available to assist in the Entered Apprentice’s Stone Work.
As Rough Ashlar is Worked and is hammer-dressed, it is called a “Common-Ashlar.” As Masonic Work proceeds on the Stone that is the Rough Ashlar or Entered Apprentice, it is eventually crafted into a “Perfect Ashlar.”
Please note that the use of the word “perfect,” and all the Masonic variations in its use when referring to Ashlars, does not denote “flawlessness.” This assumption that “flawlessness” means “perfection” is a dangerous one that will lead the best of intended Masons down a road of never being of any great use to the Builder. Masons believing that they are Working toward flawlessness are misguided. They operate with a false belief. When Freestone is selected by the Builder for Work to be done upon it, it is selected because it is already seen to be without flaws that would prevent it from being used.
Let’s stress these last points once again: Perfection in working Ashlar refers to the “maturing” and bringing it to the state in which it has use for the Builder. In other words, the Perfect Ashlar shows no flaw that would prevent it from being used before it is Perfected and is called “Perfect” only when it has reached a point when it has use to the Builder.
There are also differences in the meaning of “Ashlar” when it comes to Masonry and actual stone working. In Masonry, useful Stones are considered “Perfect Ashlars”; these Stones have all six faces cut at right angles so they can be joined smoothly to other Perfect Ashlars. In actual stone working practice though, useful stones are considered “ashlars”; these stones are cut square only on the sides intended to adjoin to other ashlars, no matter whether non-adjoining faces are dressed or not.
To assist a Mason in transforming toward usefulness, more tools are introduced to the Entered Apprentice during the Fellow Craft Degree. Once this Degree concludes, the Entered Apprentice is then a Fellow Craft Mason and is expected to Prefect the Rough Ashlar with those Working Tools. To do this Work though, it is important for the Fellow Craft to understand that, just in the case of the Entered Apprentice Stone Work, nothing is added to the Stone being Worked. A Worked Stone is only to have things removed that are not conducive to a Perfected state.
With skilled use of the given Masonic Working Tools, the Stone is thus transformed from its Rough state to its Perfect state. Only after “what is not needed” has been removed does the Worked Stone become useful to the Builder. This Perfected Stone, now called the “Perfect Ashlar,” is a Stone suitable for use in the Building of a “house, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Stone in this state is well educated, polished and refined. The Masonic Work on the Stone itself is complete.
Yet, it is also premature to believe that all Masonic Work is completed at this stage. It has not. While one might conclude that the Masonic Work on one’s Stone ends after Perfecting the Ashlar, this conclusion is misleading. There is further Work to be done and this Work requires other Perfect Ashlars to commence. More specifically, Perfect Ashlars that have been Raise and Cemented into one unified Structure must be involved. These are the Stones called “Master Masons.” Master Masons are those Perfect Ashlars whose Stone Work continues with the unified efforts of other Perfect Ashlars. Exploring a little background on this reveals how this occurs.
In Ancient Masonic Ritual, there is mention of a special Stone called the “Perpend Ashlar” or “Bond Stone.” It’s a Building term used by Stonemasons to describe Perfect Ashlars used to connect the Inner and Outer layers of walls that create Buildings. Stone walls are usually built with two layers of Perfect Ashlar, an inner and an outer, and may or may not have rubble sandwiched between them. Either way, these two walls require connecter Stones to stabilize the Structure thus Built. Perpend Stones are those Stones whose lengths allow them to extend from the outside of the outer wall to the inside of the inner wall thus showing their smooth faces on the construct’s inner and outer surfaces. All the Stones used in the construct are Raised into position, properly aligned and placed.
Once placed, these Stones are then joined together as one unified interlocking mass. Unification is done using Cement (a.k.a. “Brotherly Love”), spread with yet another working tool, to allow these unified structures to be created. The amount of Cement required is directly proportional to the roughness of the finish. Rougher finishes require the most amount of Cement; smoother finishes require far less Cement to unify a Structure. The former does not allow for the closeness that the latter does by default.
Whether used as a Perpend or Perfect Ashlar in any construct, both Stone types use all the tools of the Craft to assure that what is Built has Integrity. A single Stone lacking Integrity jeopardizes anything that is Built.
When Perfect Ashlars are Raised into position, placed in proper alignment with others and cemented together with others, they create Buildings that enable all to contribute best to each other’s welfare.
From the ground comes the Stone, freed from that which binds and prevents its perfection and contribution. Thus selected, Stone is crafted, eventually matured and bound in Brotherly love to contribute to the welfare of all.
Perpend: To consider carefully; to ponder; to be attentive; to reflect.
Questions to Perpend:
1) What brings a Stone from the ground?
2) For what purpose is a Stone removed from the ground?
3) Who is the Builder?
4) What is the Builder’s use?
5) What is the difference between the “Perpend” and “Perfect” Ashlars?
About the Article: This is a direct chapter excerpt from “Lifting the Veil – Esoteric Masonic Thought” published by PG Publishing with permission from the author. The chapter is based on the Masonic catechism, “The Ashlar Catechism” written by Dr. John S. Nagy and is from the book “Building Hiram – Uncommon Catechism for Uncommon Masonic Education” by the same author.
Brother Coach N