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THE SQUARE AND COMPASSES - Symbolism and the Teachings of Freemasonry


Chapter Ten - THE PERFECT POINTS OF ENTRANCE



Origin of the expression
Of, At and On
Entrance as an Apprentice Freemason
Preparation as an Apprentice Freemason
Presenting and Greeting the Candidate
Concluding remarks
The proof of being a Freemason is demonstrated in the Perfect Points of his Entrance.



Origin of the expression
The expression "perfect points of entrance" appears in several forms and is derived directly from the usages of operative freemasons, especially in Scotland, where it was included in the Catechisms or Test Questions regularly used to examine apprentices and unidentified freemasons seeking work.
The first known reference is in a catechism that is part of the Edinburgh Register House MS of 1696, under the heading "Some questions that masons use to put to those who have ye word before they will acknowledge them".
In that catechism "ye word" was the Mason Word that is discussed in the two chapters of this book entitled The Legacy of Operative Freemasonry and History - A Key Element in Freemasonry.
The expression was carried forward into Scottish speculative freemasonry during the direct transition of many of the old Scottish operative lodges into speculative lodges.
Evidence of the use of the expression and its interpretation, before the establishment of the original Grand Lodge of England in 1717, can also be found in the Chetwode Crawley MS of about 1700 and in the Kevan MS of about 1714, both of which are of Scottish origin.
The first known text that reveals a specifically English usage is the Sloane MS, also of about 1700.
The text in the Sloane MS differs significantly from its Scottish counterparts, but as the answers given to the questions are almost the same they confirm that the purpose of the questions and their interpretations were similar wherever used.
In this context other references of particular interest are the Dumfries No 4 MS of about 1710 and the Trinity College, Dublin MS of 1711, which indicate how widespread the usage of the expression was geographically.
The Wilkinson MS of about 1727 and Samuel Prichard's Masonry Dissected of 1730 provide evidence of the continued use of the expression long after the original Grand Lodge of England was established.
They also attest to the consistent form of the catechisms over a long period and confirm their operative origins.
The catechisms in these two documents refer to one of the several operative signs no longer used in speculative freemasonry, that are still included in the rituals of the Worshipful Society of Free Masons, Rough Masons, Wallers, Slaters, Paviors, Plaisterers and Bricklayers, commonly referred to as "The Operatives".
The consistent and long term usage of the expression is further confirmed in an early French exposure that dates from about 1745, in which the "perfect points of my entrance" are described as "the circumstances of my reception", although the interpretations of the questions and their answers are substantially the same.
During the period from 1751 to 1813 many of the English lodges that had refused to join the original Grand Lodge of England formed a Grand Lodge of their own known.
They were known as the Antients and referred to the original Grand Lodge of England as the Moderns.
The rituals of the Antients were based on the rituals of the English operative freemasons, which were similar to those of the operative freemasons in Scotland and Ireland who used the expression "perfect points of entrance" as a matter course.
The expression was already in use among the Antients when the Earl of Blessington, who had ruled over the Grand Lodge of Ireland as Viscount Mountjoy in 1738 and 1739, was installed in proxy as Grand Master of the Antients in 1756.
His appointment might have been expected to provide added impetus for "the perfect points of entrance" to be used in England, but for some reason those catechisms seem to have fallen into disuse by about 1760, possibly because the Grand Master was heavily engaged in the affairs of Ireland.
The catechisms did not reappear in England until near the end of the eighteenth century, when William Preston explained them in his First Lecture of Freemasonry in about 1790.
The third Duke of Atholl was installed as Grand Master of the Antients in 1771 and he also became the Grand Master Mason elect of Scotland in 1773, which may have had some influence on the reappearance of the "the perfect points of entrance" in English freemasonry.
When the third Duke of Atholl died in 1774 he was succeeded by his son as Duke and also as Grand Master of the Antients, from which time the Antients were commonly referred to as Atholl Masons.
In 1798 the Atholl Masons appointed a committee to consider if reconciliation could be achieved with the Moderns, but nothing eventuated until 1810 when the Atholl Masons resolved that it would be expedient and advantageous to seek a Masonic Union on principles equal and honourable to both Grand Lodges.
In 1813 reconciliation was achieved when the United Grand Lodge of England was established.
Although the rituals then agreed reputedly were based on the rituals of the Antients, various aspects of an operative origin, such as explanations of "the perfect points of entrance" and the tassels in the four corners of the lodge, were either omitted or so reduced in scope that their true symbolic importance was virtually lost.
In his enlightening book of questions and answers, entitled The Freemason at Work, Harry Carr gives an interesting review of the subject and questions whether "entrance" signifies the precise moment of entry into the lodge, or if it relates to the whole ceremony of admission, which is implied by the answers given by William Preston in his First Lecture of Freemasonry.
Harry Carr also asks "Have we lost something en route?"



Of, At and On
The ceremonial practices of operative freemasons have a direct bearing on the subject matter of all three of the foregoing questions posed by Harry Carr.
As these three aspects are interrelated and the answers are all in the affirmative, they will be addressed before discussing "the perfect points of entrance" in any detail.
Moreover the answers provide a useful introduction to a consideration of the purpose and interpretation of "the perfect points of entrance".
An aspect that often seems to have been overlooked in relation to the catechisms is that they were intended not only to establish a basis for examination in respect of the modes of recognition, but also to provide a foundation to help freemasons understand the ceremonies through which they had been conducted.
In this respect it is important to realise that in almost every degree in freemasonry there is more than one point of entry, each of which introduces a new aspect of the work.
In the ceremonies through which an apprentice is conducted there are, in fact, three separate points of entry.
Each of these is identifiable in the complete catechism, but two of them might not be evident in the brief series of questions and answers put to candidates nowadays.
Each of those points of entry relates to a distinct phase in the candidate's progress.
The first is preparation, the second is obligation and the third is recognition.
In the older catechisms the initial questions were introduced by "Of, At and On" and received answers that led to other related questions, which together suggested a continuing process and hence could more readily be identified as embracing the whole ceremony.
The modern questions usually do not include the specific "Of, At and On" introductions, so that they may seem only to relate to the precise moment of entry into the lodge.
In the first degree the first point of entry is when the candidate approaches the door of the lodge.
This is the preparatory entrance that is complete when the candidate has been received upon the point of a sharp implement and admonished appropriately.
The second point of entry is when the candidate is called upon to kneel while the blessing of heaven is invoked, after which the core element of the initiation ceremony is carried out.
It consists of the perambulation, preliminary interrogation, presentation and advancement towards the east, followed by the obligation.
This entrance is complete when the candidate has been brought to light in the usual regular manner and has received an explanation of the three great lights in freemasonry.
The third point of entrance is on the squared pavement when the Master instructs the candidate to advance towards him with the first regular step in freemasonry, instructs him in the sign, communicates the grip or token to him and entrusts him with the word.
This entrance is complete after the Wardens have examined the candidate to prove his proficiency in the modes of recognition and he has been invested with the distinguishing badge of a mason.
All of these aspects are included in the catechism of "the perfect points of entrance" and are covered in the following address to the candidate describing his entrance into the lodge as an apprentice freemason and describing the mode of his preparation.



Entrance as an Apprentice Freemason
The Points necessary to make a freemason are five.
They are called the Perfect Points of your Entrance and are Preparation, Obligation, Sign, Grip or Token and Word.
Before you entered the lodge you were prepared in accordance with ancient custom, so that you could be received at the door of the lodge, admitted into the presence of the brethren, interrogated, obligated, brought to light, instructed, entrusted, proved and invested as freemasons have been from time immemorial.
Your conductor knocked on the door of the lodge, where you were received in darkness on the point of a sharp implement and exhorted always to behave with the utmost fidelity.
When admitted into the presence of the brethren you were required to kneel while the blessing of heaven was invoked.
You were then conducted around the lodge and interrogated to ensure that your application for admission was just and that it had been based upon worthy motives alone, as well as to prove to the brethren that you had been properly prepared to be made a freemason.
You were then presented to the Master, who gave instructions for you to advance towards the east with the proper steps, then kneel with your left knee bare, which symbolically was on the rough ashlar stone.
The master placed your hand on the Volume of the Sacred Law, in which position you took the great and solemn obligation of an apprentice freemason.
When you had completed your obligation you saluted the Volume of the Sacred Law and were brought to light in the usual regular manner.
The symbol of bondage was then removed and the three great lights in freemasonry were explained.
At the beginning of the final stage of your admission you were placed in front of the Master on the squared pavement, when he told you how to advance towards him with the first regular step in freemasonry.
The Master then instructed you in the method of giving the sign, showed you how to communicate the grip or token and entrusted you with the word.
He also cautioned you that the word must never be given without the grip, but even then only in the same strict manner as you had received it.
The derivation and import of the sign and the word were also explained.
You were then conducted to the wardens for examination to prove your ability to communicate the modes of recognition in the prescribed manner.
You were invested with the distinguishing badge of a mason and warned that you must never disgrace it, because it will never disgrace you.
In future times you probably will visit lodges where you are not known to any of the members present, when you will be required to undergo examination.
To the question "How were you made a freemason?" you should reply "By the perfect points of my entrance.
" To the question "What were the perfect points of your entrance?" you should reply "Preparation, obligation, sign, grip or token and word.
" When asked to give proof of your proficiency you must only communicate the modes of recognition in the same manner and with the same strict caution as you have received them.
As during the course of your examination you might also be asked specific questions concerning the mode of your preparation, I will now explain it in more detail.



Preparation as an Apprentice Freemason
Preparation is of two kinds, internal and external.
Internally you were prepared in your heart by a favourable opinion preconceived of the institution, an earnest desire for knowledge and a sincere wish, based upon worthy motives and we trust upon worthy motives only to be ranked among its members.
Externally you were prepared in a convenient room adjacent to the lodge, by having certain items of your attire arranged in a peculiar manner to prepare you for your entrance into the lodge.
At first sight your preparation may have appeared to your untaught mind as somewhat strange, even ludicrous, but let me assure you that it was not intended to ridicule you nor to upset your sensibilities, because every part of it has a deep symbolical meaning and is intended to convey an important and instructive lesson.
You were deprived of all ornaments, jewels, moneys and metallic substances in your possession.
This was to remind you that, no matter how great a freemason's worldly possessions might be, all brethren in the lodge are on terms of strictest equality, meeting on the level, acting on the plumb and parting on the square.
This part of your preparation also was intended to remind you of the fact that, at the erection of King Solomon's temple on which our ceremonies are chiefly based, there was not heard the sound of any axe, hammer or other tools of metal that might be considered to debase the sanctity of the building.
The stones were prepared in the quarries and the timbers in the forests, all being properly fitted, marked and numbered before they were brought to the temple, where they were assembled in their proper places with the aid of wooden mauls.
You were hoodwinked or blindfolded, which was symbolical of your being in a state of darkness regarding our inner mysteries.
The blindfold was intended to impress upon your mind that the heart must be made to perceive before the eye may be permitted to discover, as well as reminding you that the members of the outside or profane world must be kept in a similar state of darkness until brought to light in the same regular manner as you yourself have been.
A cable tow was placed around your neck as a symbol of the state of bondage that you were then in, the bondage of ignorance concerning our hidden mysteries.
It also provided a means of restraint if such restraint should have been necessary.
When you had taken the great and solemn obligation of an apprentice freemason the blindfold was removed, enabling you to receive the light in the same regular manner as all apprentices had before you.
The cable tow also was removed, signifying that the bondage of ignorance had been dispelled.
Your right arm was bared as a token of your sincerity, symbolically showing that you had no weapon of offence or defence upon you.
As the rules of our order forbid the use of offensive weapons in our lodges, there is no need to carry defensive weapons at our meetings.
Your right breast was bared as a token of your fidelity and so that you could be received symbolically on the point of a sharp implement presented thereto, the recollection of which should ever after be a prick to your conscience should you ever contemplate the unlawful revelation of our inner secrets.
Furthermore, your bare left breast was to prove that you were not an impostor or woman in disguise, because the rules of our order prohibit the participation of females in our ceremonies.
Your left knee was bare as a token of your humility.
On it you knelt when you entered into the great and solemn obligation of an apprentice freemason.
Finally, your right heel was slipshod in allusion to an ancient custom when a bargain or contract was entered into, as we read in Ruth 4:7 - "Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing; for to confirm all things a man plucked off his shoe and gave it to his neighbour: and this was a testimony in Israel.
"



Presenting and Greeting the Candidate
In many lodges it customary for a newly made apprentice freemason to be presented and greeted at an appropriate time during the ceremony, when the following address is an appropriate one: "Worshipful Master, Wardens and brethren, I present to you our apprenticed brother who has been prepared, received into our lodge, obligated, brought to light, instructed, entrusted, proved and invested with the distinguishing badge of a freemason. I call upon you ever to acknowledge and honour him as such and now to greet him with a running fire of the knocks of the degree three times, taking the time from me."



Concluding remarks
As the appropriate examination of strangers is a vital safeguard of a freemason's privileges, every freemason should be prepared to demonstrate his qualifications in the correct manner when visiting a lodge where he is not known. Irrespective of the degree or rank held by a freemason who cannot be personally vouched for by a member of a lodge that he is visiting, his examination to determine his qualifications should always begin as outlined in the foregoing explanation. When appropriate the examination would be extended to include any additional qualifications the visitor may have.