Symbolical Masonry, by H.L. Haywood, , at sacred-texts.com
"Man is a Tool-using Animal; weak in himself, and of small stature, he stands on a basis, at most for the flattest-soled, of some half-square foot, insecurely enough; has to straddle out his legs, lest the very wind supplant him. Feeblest of bipeds! Three quintals are a crushing load to him; the steer of the meadow tosses him aloft, like a waste rag. Nevertheless he can use tools, can devise tools; with these the granite mountain melts into light dust before him; he kneads glowing iron, as if it were soft paste; seas are his smooth highway, winds and fire his unwearying steeds. Nowhere do you find him without tools; without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all."
Thus writes Thomas Carlyle, who was not always as Masonic as he is here. It would be difficult to state in language more forceful the whole philosophy underlying the Working Tools of Masonry, albeit reference might also be made to Henri Bergson, who wrote his "Creative Evolution" many years after Carlyle had penned his "Sartor Resartus," and when new light had come, and men had grown wiser in science. In his book, which is the most original discussion of Evolution since Darwin's "Origin of Species," Bergson shows that nothing more distinguishes the man from the brute than his use of tools. The brute has his tools built into his own body
and consequently can neither modify nor change them; the beaver's teeth, the spider's spinnet, the eagle's talons, the lion's claws, in all these and similar cases the brute's tool is a part of the brute's anatomy, with the result that its operations are confined within very narrow limits. But man makes his own tools, can modify or change them at will, and is always free to adapt himself and his work to ever-changing needs; from this has arisen man's superiority to the brute creation, for he can use his tools upon himself and thus change his own nature as well as the external world. Accordingly, Bergson defines man as "the animal that makes things," and he is careful to show that man's superiority lies in his power to work upon himself as well as upon things.
Here, in this last clause, is the key to Masonry's use of Working Tools. In no case are they instruments to be used on external things, though they are symbolised by the tools of the Operative Builders; in every case they are mental or moral forces with which a man may reshape himself into a masterful man and help reshape society into a great Brotherhood. With the implements thus understood, no man or Mason can ever hope to build except he be equipped with his kit of tools.
But some tools are simpler in use than others, and better adapted to simpler work; therefore the Craft has wisely distributed the implements among the Degrees, in recognition of the candidate's increase of skill and responsibility; in the First Degree the Apprentice is given the Twenty-four Inch Guage and Common Gavel; in the Second the candidate is allotted the Plumb, Square and Level; while the Master Mason, in token of his task in completing the building work, is given the Trowel.
The Twenty-four Inch Guage.
This is nothing other than an ordinary two-foot rule such as may be found in use among stone-masons of to-day; as such we need not go far to seek its origin or dive deep to find its meaning. Our Monitors make it the symbol of time well systematised, and our older writers have often referred to Sts. Ambrose and Augustine, and to King Alfred, as exemplars of the wisdom of devoting eight hours to the service of God and distressed worthy brethren, eight hours to their usual vocation, and eight to rest and to refreshment. This reading of the symbolism may be accepted without reserve, but is not this right use and dividing of time itself suggestive of that wider use of law and order so necessary in the life of the individual and the world?
What time is in itself we do not know, perhaps we shall never know. But in every-day life it is nothing other than our opportunity to live and work. We have our allotted span of existence; we have our allotted task; our wisdom consists in making one fit the other. Time flows over some men as water flows over a stone; to others a single hour may bring a new depth of experience and open out new vistas of vision. It is not the least among the secrets of genius that it understands the value of the odd moment or the spare hour. Many Illinois lawyers between 1840 and 1860 found their days eaten up by their practice; Abraham Lincoln was as busy as the others but he managed in his spare time to learn White's Geometry by heart, to study the technique of politics, and to master every phase and angle of the slavery question. There were only twenty-four hours in one of Albert Pike's days even as in ours; he made of himself, in spite of a thousand handicaps, one of the
profoundest scholars of his day—antiquarian, linguist, jurist, philologist, what not; he "found the Scottish Rite a log-cabin and left it a palace"; he ploughed his influence into America, and all because he knew how to apply the guage to his time.
Much of the waste and confusion of human existence arises from men's failure to measure their work by some standard or rule; they float down the stream like chips, take things as they come and go, and suffer themselves to be blown this way and that like a derelict at sea. Their days are as mere heaps of stone to which no quarryman has ever brought his tools. He who has learned how to transform time into life, deals with circumstances as an artist uses his materials; he has ever before him a plan laid out on his mind's tracing-board; he selects his materials and appoints each to its appropriate function, fitting and shaping all according to his design.
What is the standard by which we may test our work? What is the measure of rightness? For many centuries we have been dividing our actions into two opposing tables, one made up of good actions, and one of bad. When we have desired to learn whether or not some proposed action was good or bad we searched for it in the two lists. But this morality by code is rapidly breaking down, for we find that a deed will be wrong under some circumstances, right under others. If I shoot a man for assaulting my family I may do right; if I shoot a friend in a quarrel I do evil. The one test which we can apply to any and every action is, "What is its effect on life?" If it enlarges, exalts, ennobles, if it makes life more musical, more worthful, more rich, it is good; if it cramps, corrupts, debases, defiles, it is evil. This is life morality and every evidence indicates that it is to be the morality of the future.
And it is also, I believe, the morality of Masonry, as
symbolised by that Working Tool which would teach us how to transform time into life. He who learns this use of it need never regret the passing of "every year," for every year will but add honour to his head and riches to his heart until the end comes when time will lead him to eternity.
In the Middle Ages the Gavel was a symbol often made use of by religious bodies to signify possession, a meaning derived, perhaps, from the ancient custom of throwing a gavel (or hammer) across a field to claim ownership. In the Scandinavian mythology it was Thor's hammer and stood for power, often seen in the thunderings and lightnings by which that dread god split the rocks and destroyed the trees. It is similarly used, we learn from H.G.M. Murray-Aynsley ("A.Q.C.," vol. VI, p. 51) by New Zealanders, the Maoris, and Channel Island savages. In Masonry it has other meanings, being derived from the tool used by the workmen in dressing a stone to the desired shape.
As a Working Tool it must not be confused with the Master's hammer which, because it stands for his authority, is often called "Hiram," in commemoration of the authority wielded by the First Grand Master. The Gavel is a tool with one sharp edge and combines the functions of the hammer and the chisel. When looked at from the end, with the cutting edge turned up, it has the appearance of the gable of a house, and this suggested to Mackey that it may have been derived from the German "gipful," or gable. However that may be, it is a
tool for shaping and not for breaking and is therefore not an emblem of force, as some have fancied, though it is obvious that force must be employed to use it.
According to the Monitorial explanation, "The common gavel is an instrument made use of by Operative Masons, to break off the corners of rough stones, the better to fit them for the builder's use; but we, as free and accepted Masons, are taught to make use of it for the more noble and glorious purpose of divesting our minds and consciences of all the vices and superfluities of life, thereby fitting our bodies, as living stones, for that spiritual building, that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." In other connections we are told that the Gavel was used by Operative Masons to break off the knobs and excrescences of stones in order to shape the Rough Ashlar into the Perfect Ashlar, or finished building stone.