Stouffville Masonic Temple. Masonic Perfect Ashlar.
Masonic Perfect Ashlar.
The Latin assis was a board or plank; in the diminutive form, assula, it meant a small board, like a shingle, or a chip. In this con-nection it is interesting to note that our "axle" and’ "axis" were derived from it. In early English this became asheler and was used to denote a stone in the rough as it came from the quarries. The Operative Masons called such a stone a "rough ashlar," and when it had been shaped and finished for its place in the wall they called it a "perfect ashlar." An Apprentice is a rough ashlar, because unfinished, whereas a Master Mason is a perfect ashlar, because he has been shaped for his place in the organization of the Craft.
The publication of a number of Minute Books of old Lodges since it was written calls for a revision of the paragraph on ASHLAR, on page 107. In one of his memoranda on the building of St. Paul s, Sir Christopher Wren shows by the context that as the word was there and then used an ashlar was a stone, ready-dressed from the quarries (costing about $5.00 in our money), for use in walls ; and that a "perpend asheler" was one with polished ends each of which would lie in a surface of the wall ; in that case a "rough" ashlar was not a formless mass of rock, but was a stone ready for use, no surface of which would appear in the building walls; it was unfinished in the sense of unpolished. In other records, of which only a few have been found, a "perpend" ashlar was of stone cut with a key in it so as to interlock with a second stone cut correspondingly.
It is doubtful if the Symbolic Ashlars were widely used among the earliest Lodges; on the other hand they are mentioned in Lodge inventories often enough to make it certain that at least a few of the old Lodges used them ; and since records were so meagerly kept it is possible that their use may have been more common than has been believed. On April 11, 1754, Old Dundee Lodge in Wapping, London, "Resolved that A New Perpend Ashlar Inlaid with Devices of Masonry Valued at £2 12s. 6d. be purchased. " The word ”new” proves that the Lodge had used an Ashlar before 1754, perhaps for many years before; the word "devices" duggests long years of symbolic use.
It is obvious that the Ashlars as referred to in the above were not like our own Perfect and Imperfect Ashlars. It is certain that our use of them did not originate in America ; there are no known data to show when or where they originated, but it is reasonable to suppose that Webb received them from Preston, or else from English Brethren in person who knew the Work in Preston’s period. Operative Masons doubtless used the word in more than one sense, depending on time and place ; and no rule can be based on their Practice.
The Speculative Masons after 1717, as shown above, must have used "Perfect Ashlar" in the sense of "Perpend Ashlar"; nevertheless the general purpose of the symbolism has been the same throughout – a reminder to the Candidate that he is to think of himself as if he were a building stone and that he will be expected to polish himself in manners and character in order to find a place in the finished Work of Masonry. The contrast between the Rough Ashlar and the Perfect Ashlar is not as between one man and another man, thereby generating a snobbish sense of superiority; but as between what a man is at one stage of his own self-development and what he is at another stage.
In Sir Christopher Wren’s use of "ashlar" (he was member of Lodge of Antiquity) the stone had a dimension of 1 x 1 x 2 feet; and many building records, some of them very old, mention similar dimensions; certainly, the "perpend" or "perfect" ashlar almost never was a cube, because there are few places in a wall where a cube will serve. Because in our own symbolism the Perfect Ashlar is a cube, a number of commentators on symbolism have drawn out of it pages of speculation on the properties of the cube, and on esoteric meanings they believe those properties to possess; the weight possessed by those theorizing is proportionate to the knowledge and intelligence of the commentator; but in any event these cubic interpretations do not have the authority of Masonic history behind them.
NOTE: During the many years of building and re-building at Westminster Abbey the clerk of the works kept a detailed account of money expended, money received, wages, etc. These records, still in existence, are called Fabric Rolls. In the Fabric Roll for 1253 the word "asselers" occurs many times, and means dressed stones, or ashlars. A "perpens" or "parpens," or "perpent-stone" was "a through stone," presumably because it was so cut that each end was flush with a face of the wall. It proves that "perpend ashlar" was not a "perfect ashlar" in the present sense of being a cube.
– Source: Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry
This Masonic Perfect Ashlar was presented to the Barton Lodge by W.Bro. C. H. Webster in 5846.
Rough and Perfect Ashlar
A rough and perfect ashlar are stones which symbolize Man’s moral and spiritual life.
Cutting stone to uniform shapes and sizes requires the skill and experience of a true craftsman with many years of experience.
This is why, historically, only large edifices (buildings) were made of ashlars (rather than brick or wood), due to the necessity (and difficulty) of assembling the many skilled craftsman needed to complete the many subsets of knowledge such as how to build a stone archway, how to lay foundation stone, and how to lay stone, one atop another to great heights…not to mention the artisans who sculpted the stones into ornamental shapes.
In days of old, apprentice masons cut and raised the Rough Ashlars from the stone quarry under the supervision of more experienced craftsman, called Fellowcrafts.
The work was accomplished under the watchful eye of the Master masons of the craft…those who had proved their ability to make their Master’s piece to the satisfaction of their superiors.
In Freemasonry, there are 2 forms of ashlars.
In operative Freemasonry, the rough ashlar represents a rough, unprepared or undressed stone. In speculative Freemasonry, a rough ashlar is an allegory to the uninitiated Freemason prior to his discovering enlightenment.
Operatively, the Perfect ashlar represents the dressed stone (after it has been made uniform and smoothed) by use of the working tools, the common gavel, (mallet) and chisel. (The chisel may be found in English Freemasonry, but is not used in the United States as a Freemason symbol.)
Only after the stone has been dressed by an experienced stonemason, can it be suitable to be placed into the architectural structure or building.
Speculatively, a Perfect Ashlar is an allegory to a Freemason who, through Masonic education, works to achieve an upstanding life and diligently strives to obtain enlightenment.
Rough and Perfect Ashlars
In the Fellowcraft Degree, we see the use of the Rough and Perfect Ashlars. The lesson to be learned is that by means of education and the acquirement of knowledge, a man improves the state of his spiritual and moral being.
Like man, each Rough Ashlar begins as an imperfect stone. With education, cultivation and brotherly love, man is shaped into a being which has been tried by the square of virtue and encircled by the compasses of his boundaries, given to us by our Creator.
Rough and Perfect Ashlar: Fitted For The Builder’s Use
In ancient times, quarried stone which could be easily shaped into desired configurations, was called "freestone". Typical freestones are limestone and sandstone.
Then, as now, only after refining and smoothing these rough stones into their desired shape, were the stonemasons able to "fit them for the builder’s use".
In the Fellowcraft degree, the Rough Ashlar represents a man’s unrefined state and his need for improvement. He learns that the goal of being a better man includes spirituality of thought and striving for perfection of conduct. Via duties, expectations and obligations, he is charged to work toward these goals of self improvement.
As the Freemason "smoothes" his rough edges, internally and externally; he becomes a better man and, therefore, a better Freemason.
Once a man has perfected his ashlar to the best of his ability,… as Brothers to all mankind, it is his duty to help others become better men and better Freemasons.
Rough and Perfect Ashlar – The Potential For Change
All rough ashlars must have within them the potential to be made into a perfect ashlar.
The stone must be made of sound material and have a minimum of character flaws which may cause it to weaken the edifice (building). It must be capable of being worked into a perfect stone. This is why candidates for the degrees are asked many questions as to their qualifications and character about why they wish to become Freemasons.
The candidate must have the potential to both serve and support the Fraternity. He must be carefully inspected, just as each Rough Ashlar is inspected for quality in order to be able to "fit" him into Freemasonry’s tenets and goals, which are compatible to God’s laws.
An imperfect stone may be made perfect, however major flaws are difficult to overcome and when assembled into a structure, the entire structure can be weakened from its improper use. This is as true of men as it is of stones.
Rough and Perfect Ashlar – States of Metamorphose
Freemasonry has a glorious history. Flawed ashlars can bring negative feelings and reproach upon the Fraternity from non-Freemasons in the outside world and therefore, can have no place within its walls.
…That said,…let us not forget that perfect ashlars are not found lying about the stone quarry without benefit of their having been hammered, chiseled and polished into such a state of being.
It also holds true that "perfect" men are also such an anomaly without the benefit of brotherly love, guidance and light. There are very few Freemasons who have not been in both the rough and perfect ashlar state-of-being at some point in their lives.
Freemason Duties For the Future of the Craft
1. Freemasons must give serious consideration to our personal responsibility to educate other Brothers toward their self improvement.
Like the Good Samaritan in the Holy Books; it is in the giving and assistance to others in which you will find the true "jewels" of enlightenment. True Master Masons not only exemplify the tenets of the craft, but they teach what they learn.
2. Lodges should carefully judge the potential of each candidate, weighing both their character and their potential for change. For more information as to how to properly perform this duty, see my page Masonic Investigation Committee.
3. Each Freemason is charged to extend the hand of brotherly love and affection to help new Freemasons become better men and strive to live on the square, stand upright with the plumb and take their true place as a man who would make his Creator (the Almighty), proud of him.
The lesson of the Rough and Perfect Ashlar applies to all men who are worthy,…who have a heartfelt wish to go from ignorance to knowledge,…from darkness to light…and from death to life.
The following poem, written by Mary Brooks Picken, entitled, "Thimblefuls of Friendliness" was written in 1924, and, perhaps says it, best.
"Thimblefuls of Friendliness"
"Isn’t it strange that Princes and Kings
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
And just plain folks like you and me,
Are builders for Eternity?
To each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass and a book of rules,
And each must make ere life is flown,
A stumbling block, or a stepping stone.
So,…it’s up to you. What will YOU decide to build with YOUR working tools?
The Ashlars – Author Unknown
We are told that the Ashlars lie open in the lodge for the brethren to moralize on. Did you ever see a brother contemplating the Ashlars and trying to derive some moral benefit from them? For the most part they are quickly referred to and just as quickly forgotten. The Ashlar is the freestone as it comes from the quarry. The Rough Ashlar is the stone in its rude and natural state and is emblematic of man in his natural state – ignorant, uncultivated and vicious. But when education has exerted it’s wholesome influence in expanding his intellect, restraining his passions and purifying his life, he then is represented by the Perfect Ashlar which, under the skillful hands of workman, has been smoothed and squared and fitted for its place in the building.
However, you will observe that the Rough Ashlar in a Masonic Lodge is not in its rude or natural state. It has been squared in a fashion, partially smoothed and has apparent strength and solidarity. It possesses all the qualities that could make it a perfect stone for use in the construction of the Temple, but it needs the hands and skill of the perfect Craftsman to bring about that result. It represents the candidate for membership in a Masonic Lodge. Such an applicant is not in his rude or natural state, neither ignorant, uncultivated nor vicious.
Masonry does not accept men of such qualifications. The applicant by education and perseverance has fitted himself as a respectable man in his community, assuming full responsibility as a citizen, a churchman and a member of his family. There is a vast number of men in every community possessing such qualifications who are not members of a Masonic Lodge, and may never have the desire to associate themselves with the Ancient Craft.
A man judges Masonry by the actions and manner of living of those he knows are members of the Order, but knows little or nothing of its teachings or objectives in the building of character. In that sense, he is in the crude state of the rough Ashlar, possessing all the qualities or perfect material, but lacking the polish that comes from a continued study and practice of the great teachings of Masonry.
Membership in a lodge does not make a man a Mason. He must apply his abilities to improving all in him that falls short of that high standard set by Masonry in character and citizen building. If he is satisfied with being a Master Mason in name only, he loses the benefits of further advancement and improvement offered by membership in the Order. In other words, he falls far short of anything that might be termed the Perfect Ashlar.
The Perfect Ashlar is for the more expert Craftsman to try and adjust his jewels on. In ancient times, with crude tools that would not even be used in this age, workmen of great skill and experience produced material for the construction of the Temple having such perfection that each piece fitted perfectly into its place without adjustment or correction. Time was not one of the essential factors; perfection was the goal.
To keep this state of perfection in absolute balance, a standard must have been set whereby the workmen could constantly test their tools to know that continued wear and use had not changed the measurements; even in the slightest degree. Did they have a Perfect Ashlar on which to make such a test?
We are told that the Perfect Ashlar is for the more expert workmen to “try” and adjust their tools on. In Masonry, we are the workmen, whether we be active or inactive, workers or drones. What are our “jewels”, our most prized possession? If we have absorbed any of the teachings Masonry, the building of character and a Christian way of life are two of the many jewels that should constantly be before us. And in the building of that state of perfection to which we attain, what Perfect Ashlar have we that we might go to and “try” the tools with which we have been working, to know that they are still of fine quality and in perfect condition for the job that lies before us.
In every Masonic Lodge there rests on the Altar in the center of the room the V.O.T.S.L. It is the solid foundation upon which Masonry in our lives is built. It never changes. Civilizations may come and go, but the Book of Books remains the same, adaptable to all conditions and manner of men, in good times and bad, in peace or war, a guide for mankind.
How often do we consult this Guide to try and adjust the jewels which are ours and which may need to be altered to get them back to that state of perfection which we as Masons should endeavor at all times to hold as our standard way of life? I am afraid that in this busy world of today, we neglect this practice. Therefore, as we think of the Ashlars and try to do a little moralizing, let us forget, even for a brief period, the material things in our lives, and direct our thoughts to the more important duty of contemplating our own defects and shortcomings, and adjusting our way of life and bringing it more in harmony with that standard given us by the Great Creator in the V.O.T.S.L.
The Ashlars are not just two pieces of stone. They represent what we have been and what we hope to be. It is up to each individual Mason to pass his own judgment on himself and to adjust his jewels accordingly, so that when the time comes and he lays down his tools and makes the final journey to the Grand Lodge Above, he may leave behind a reputation as a wise counselor, a pillar of strength and stability, a Perfect Ashlar on which younger Masons may test the correctness and value of their own contribution to the Masonic order.