NOTE: This article was originally published in the December 2012 issue of The Working Tools Masonic Magazine. It is posted here through the kindness of Bro. Cory Sigler, the magazine’s owner and editor.
EACH OF THE THREE DEGREES of Craft Masonry introduces the initiate (or Brother, as the case may be) to a set of “working tools” – implements of operative Masonry that have been “moralized” and are now employed in the Speculative strain of the Art that they might teach certain elementary moral principles. Of the working tools, Albert Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, writes: “With these the Speculative Freemason is taught to erect his spiritual Temple, as his Operative predecessors with the same implements so constructed their material Temples.” Blackmer offers this: “[The emblematical allusion of the tools] demonstrates that the tools and implements of the operative Mason’s Art are to be sanctified and dedicated to the veneration of God and the erection of a spiritual temple in the heart…” (THE LODGE AND THE CRAFT, page 77).
As it does with many symbols and emblems of The Order, the ritual itself provides us with a simple, superficial explanation of the tools’ relevance within Freemasonry. Know that more recondite meanings present themselves upon inspection.
The working tools of the Entered Apprentice degree are generally two: the twenty-four inch gauge (hereinafter “the gauge”) and the common gavel. Some jurisdictions teach three Entered Apprentice working tools – the gauge, the common gavel and the chisel. This article shall explore some of the deeper meanings of the gauge, while the gavel and the chisel will be treated together in a forthcoming piece.
The gauge is typically represented as a long and thin measuring stick, divided into three equal sections of 8 inches each. The three sections are linked by two joints permitting them to be extended in a single span of 24 inches; these joints also permit the sections to be folded one upon the other, making the tool more compact and less unwieldy.
The ritual of the Entered Apprentice Degree speaks this of the gauge (New York working):
“The Twenty-four Inch Gauge is an instrument used by operative masons to measure and lay out their work; but we, as Free and Accepted Masons, are taught to use it for the more noble and glorious purpose of dividing our time. It being divided into twenty-four equal parts, is emblematical of the twenty-four hours of the day, which we are taught to divide into three equal parts, whereby are found eight hours for the service of God and a distressed worthy Brother, eight for our usual vocations, and eight for refreshment and sleep.”
In expounding on the gauge, most authors have done little more than either regurgitate verbatim (or nearly so) the text above, or craft some paraphrasing of identical flavor. Amongst those few who ventured a bit from the ritual’s explanation we find these: Albert Pike writes that the force of the gavel is “regulated and guided by…” the gauge (MORALS AND DOGMA OF THE ANCIENT ACCEPTED SCOTTISH RITE, page 4.) After noting that the three sections of the gauge can be manipulated to form an equilateral triangle, George Steinmetz goes on to state that “here in this one instrument is the entire teaching of Masonry: the progress from the material man to the perfect divine man, made in God’s own image.” (FREEMASONRY: ITS HIDDEN MEANING, page 87).
In considering the gauge numerologically, it can very simply offer the value of 6 when we sum the digits of its length – 24 = 2+4 = 6.) Let us endeavor to lay bare any occulted correspondences to the gauge’s value of 6; we will seek after them in the Torah, in the Qabalah and finally in the Tarot.
IN THE TORAH
The sixth character of the Hebrew alphabet is “vav” (ו). “Vav” literally means a hook, or peg, and is used in this way in Exodus 27:10, regarding the drapings or hangings of the Tabernacle of the Israelites: “And the twenty pillars thereof and their twenty sockets shall be of brass; the hooks of the pillars and their fillets shall be of silver.”
A particular “vav” character – larger in size than the surrounding characters for emphasis – occurring in the Book of Leviticus, in verse 11:42, is at the very center of the Torah, i.e., to the left and to the right of this particular “vav” character, we shall be able to count an equal number of Hebrew characters. Accordingly, it can be said that the Torah is balanced around this central “vav“. Note the correspondence: the gauge, whose exoteric lesson is one concerning a judicious (we may say a balanced) use of time, can have a numerological value of six, while the Hebrew character about which we may say the entire Torah is balanced – the “vav” – also has a numerical value of six.
Proceeding further, let us note that this central “vav” character (the balancing point of the Torah) occurs in the Hebrew word “gachown” (גָּחוֹן ) defined by Strong’s Concordance (H1512) as “belly of reptiles.” “Gachown” (and its central “vav” character) appear in Leviticus 11:42 (King James Version):
“Whatsoever goeth upon the belly, and whatsoever goeth upon all four, or whatsoever hath more feet among all creeping things that creep upon the earth, them ye shall not eat; for they are an abomination.”
Reptiles that “goeth upon the belly” are snakes. The word “gachown” (גָּחוֹן ) is also given in Genesis 3:14, in which verse God curses the serpent for its Promethean transgression (King James Version):
“And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:”
It shall not strain our imaginations to see that the gauge, long and thin as it is, appears snake-like.
IN THE TORAH
It is well to offer some basic information concerning the Qabalah’s Tree of Life (Otz Chiim) for those readers who may not be wholly familiar with it. The Qabalistic Tree of Life is a diagrammatic representation of the pathway to Deity, and of the process via which Deity – Our Supreme Architect – created all that is out of that which was not, i.e., the procession of the created world out of nothingness, through a series of emanations. These emanations are collectively known as sephiroth (singular = sephira), of which there are ten. It is only through the sephiroth – as manifestations of Deity – that we can know attempt to approach the unknowable First Cause.
The ten sephiroth are arranged on the Tree across three pillars. The left pillar is called the Pillar of Severity, the right the Pillar of Mercy; between these two is found the eponymous Middle Pillar. It is in the Middle Pillar that the aspects of the Severity and Mercy Pillars – opposites – find resolution and balance. The Middle Pillar may perhaps be likened to the inexpressibly keen edge of a blade atop which opposite forces meet. Here, Severity meets Mercy and their balanced interplay results in Justice. Here is the point at which hard transmutes into soft. Here is the preternatural point at which the flow of past time becomes the flow of future time.
The sixth sephira on the tree demands our attention. Lying on the Middle Pillar, it is known as “Tipareth.” In her seminal work on the Hermetic Qabalah, THE MYSTICAL QABALAH, British occultist Dion Fortune tells us that Tipareth “is the centre of equilibrium of the whole tree, being in the middle of the Central Pillar” and that it “is the point of transmutation between the planes of force and the planes of form.” (THE MYSTICAL QABALAH, page 188). Fortune further states that “The meaning of the Hebrew word Tipareth is Beauty; and of the many definitions of beauty that have been proposed, the most satisfying is that which finds beauty to lie in a due and just proportion, whatever the beautiful thing may be, whether moral or material. It is interesting, therefore, to find the Sephirah of Beauty as the central point of equilibrium of the whole Tree, and that one of the two Spiritual Experiences assigned to Tiphareth is the Vision of the Harmony of Things.” (ibid, page 203).
The Craft’s gauge, numerologically equivalent to six, bears an emblematical message of balanced usage of time – a message much further developed and splendidly enriched when the sixth sephira is considered.
Though they are most familiar as an apparatus of augury, the cards of the Tarot are a useful contemplative tool that I maintain suffers abuse when employed merely for divination. A standard Tarot deck will consist of 78 cards, of which 22 are known as “major arcana” (the major arcana are those most familiar to the casual observer, and include infamous cards like The Devil and Death.)
We are, of course, here concerned with the sixth major arcana card of the Tarot (the card bearing the number “6”): “The Lovers.” The card displays a nude man and a nude woman standing beneath a radiant angel, itself hovering beneath a resplendent sun. The woman stands abreast a fruited tree about which a serpent coils, while the man is near to a tree bearing tufts of flame; both figures stand on either side of a mountain. The man gazes at the woman, while she in turn looks skyward at the angel and the Sun.
The symbolism of the card speaks of balance and the union of opposites – the male and female. The tree near which the woman stands – akin to Eden’s Tree of Knowledge (and therefore reason) is in opposition to the flaming tree – representative of the passions – near to the man. Reason and passion can be brought into balance in the perfected Man – the Man who has transmuted from lead to gold. The path of ascension is symbolized by the mountain, which recalls the shape of an upward pointing triangle, and is therefore indicative of the climb upward toward the Almighty. This climb is analogous to the climb up the Tree of Life, through each sephirothic consciousness. “Balance the opposites,” it seems to teach, “and you may ascend.”
A 15th century Italian version of “The Lovers”, from the Visconti Tarot, makes the idea concerning the union of the male and female poles upon the middle, harmonizing point even more explicit – a man and a woman clasp hands in front of a tent in which a central support-pole is visible. The pole is analogous to the Middle Pillar.
Owing to the intimate link between the Qabalah and the Tarot, we must make a return to the sixth sephira Tipareth. Tipareth, like all of the sephiroth, enjoys astrological associations; it is associated with the Sun. The seventh sephira, Netzach, is associated with the planet Venus (female), while the eighth sephira, Hod, is associated with the planet Mercury (male). Proceeding through the tree starting at Tipareth, the sixth sephira, and moving next to Netzach, the seventh sephira, then to Hod, the eighth, and then back to Tipareth, describes the shape of an equilateral triangle. To state it differently, in traveling from the Sun (Tipareth, 6) to Venus (Netzach, 7) and then across to Mercury (Hod, 8), and back to Tipareth we have taken a triangular path. We begin at the Sun – a symbol of Deity, shedding its life-giving, fecundative rays upon this lower plane – and move to the “female pole” and thence to the “male pole”, and finally back the Sun.
The triangle thus described not only links Tipareth, Netzach and Hod on the Tree of Life, but if it and the three sephiroth we have connected with it are superimposed upon “The Lovers” card, it also links the angel and the Sun to the man and the woman. Thus placed, Netzach (Venus – female) falls atop the man, and Hod (Mercury – male) falls atop the woman; the opposites are paired.
Recall that, of the triangle, Steinmetz writes that it may be formed by manipulating the three sections of the gauge. This triangle is representative of “the progress from the material man to the perfect divine man, made in God’s own image” (FREEMASONRY: ITS HIDDEN MEANING, PAGE 87), i.e., the regenerate Man in whom the male and female aspects have been harmonized upon the Middle Pillar, as they are in the Deity. To this effect, The Zohar states that “And therefore are all things established in the equality of male and female; for were it not so, how could they subsist?”, and S.L. Macgregor Mathers wrote, “”Insomuch that through that Tiphereth, Beauty, Adam becometh in one body, Male and Female” (KABALLAH UNVEILED, Chapter 40, no. 949).
It is interesting to note that of the number six, occultist William W. Westcott relates that the ancient Greek mathematician Nicomachus wrote that it was “the fabricator of the Soul, also Harmony.” (NUMBERS – THEIR OCCULT POWER AND MYSTIC VIRTUES, page 66).
Note also that the hexalpha, or six-pointed star (the Star of David), is emblematic of the Hermetic concept of “Quod est inferius est sicut quod est superius, et quod est superius est sicut quod est inferius” – “as above, so below.” It is comprised of two equilateral triangles pointing in opposite directions – one points up towards the heavens – the plane of spirit – and the other points downward to the earth – the material plane. The two triangles are in balance, and represent the harmonization of these planes.
The gauge provides but a single example of the deep complexity that underlies many of The Craft’s symbols. While its exoteric exhortation to a right use of one’s time is a valuable, practical instruction, it points us toward a hermetic teaching of balance and the harmonization of opposite forces. In doing so, it ushers us toward the kernel of this Royal Art, while affording us yet another example of the connection between Freemasonry and the Qabalah.
Copyright (c) 2012 Anthony Mongelli, Jr. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in whole or in part without the express written consent of Anthony Mongelli, Jr.