Saturday, May 15, 2010

"I hold in my hands an instrument of death..."

One of the things that has always intrigued me has been that a central symbol - featured prominently in ritual work of the Craft - seems to be missing. Each of the working tools seem to hold a place, yet one is mysteriously absent.

What happened to the setting maul?

It's like CSI:Jerusalem. The crucial piece of evidence is missing and almost nowhere to be found. What I find interesting is that the gauge and the square are involved in the degrees, yet the setting maul does not.

Several Masonic writers including Steinmetz, Pike and Hutchens have discussed the symbolism of the trials at the Gates and the reasons for the use the specific tools and the locations where they were used. Roughly, they speculate the following:
  • The First Gate: a symbol of the physical. The tool is the gauge. The blow strikes the throat, stifling speech.
  • The Second Gate: a symbol of the psychical. The tool is the square. The blow strikes the heart, stifling the emotions.
  • The Third Gate: a symbol of the spiritual. The tool is the setting maul - not the trowel. It is, in Hutchen's words "an instrument of brute force." It is with this instrument that ends his life with a blow to the head - the intellectual center.

More questions surface. Why does this implement not feature more prominently in the work? Why was it this instrument and this blow that kills him?

Steinmetz further comments on the setting maul in his book "Freemasonry - its Hidden Meaning":

"A setting maul is an instrument made use of by operative masons to coerce the unwieldy stone into its proper position in the building; but we, as Free and Accepted Masons are taught to make use of it for the more noble and glorious purpose of impelling ourselves into our proper positions in that building of which we are to form a part. A more recondite exposition is seen in the Constructive and Destructive aspects of Universal Law. In the hands of the ignorant and unskilled workman it becomes an instrument of death and destruction, but in the hands of the enlightened and skilled craftsman it becomes a constructive instrument with which the recalcitrant stone is forced into its proper position."

A key word jumped out at me when reading this - "recalcitrant". The stone described is not one which is difficult, but one which is stubbornly disobedient - one which is obstinately defiant of restraint. This is not a job for a simple trowel, but of a tool which is able to apply a greater level of directed force coupled with appropriate strength. In the hands of a Master Mason it can be a tool to guide stones into place. To the unskilled it is tool of destruction which will shatter the stone rather than settle it.

To me, this seems the more appropriate tool of a Master Mason. It is our duty to correct the errors of our less informed Brethren - a skilled application of the maul brings the Brother back into place. An unskilled application may shatter the Brother's confidence or damage his dignity - therefore damaging the ashlar - perhaps beyond repair.

Yet for some reason it remains missing. Perhaps some time in the future the answer will come to light, but for now we have only to speculate.

What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if it is missing because no one walks to talk about it ? Of all the degrees.. the one where this tool is used is the least spoken of - not because it is the least important.. but because it is the most profound.