Where are the keys
to your lodge?
By Elliott Saxton
In the earliest
Masonic ritual, the Edinburgh
Register House Manuscript, we read
the following exchanges in the Q&A
adjusted for modern English.
Q: Are you a
Q: Where shall I find the key of
A: Three foot and a half from the lodge
door under a perpendicular ashlar
and a green divot. But under the lap
of my liver where all my secrets of
my heart lie.
Q: Which is the key of your lodge?
A: A well held tongue.
Q: Where lies the key?
A: In the bone box.
Q: Have you any key
to the secrets of a Mason?
A: In a bone box that
neither opens nor shuts but with
ivory keys. Interestingly, later
catechism (or Q&A’s) refer to a
bone-bone box. In the catechisms, we
need to read between the lines to
uncover what is meant. Can you
figure out the puzzle? I’ll return
to it later in this article in case
you want to give it a try. In the
meantime, if you’re familiar with
the Scottish Rite degrees, you’ll
notice that keys figure prominently
in the degrees, they even have an
ivory key in the fourth degree of
secret master. Judging from the
early rituals, so did blue lodge.
They’re very Masonic, aren’t they?
They hide and reveal, they’re lost
and found, and since they’re
dangerous if put into the wrong
hands, you need to be careful to
whom you give it.
symbols are like this. They’re
riddles. When symbols are
interpreted, you find an answer
to the riddle. We need to be
cautious, however, because not
all interpretations are right.
We often hear in masonry “Every
man must interpret Masonic
symbols for himself”, this is
true, but his interpretations
can also be flat out wrong. I
often give the example of the
man that returns to his car
after work and sees a ticket
under his windshield. On the
front of it, he sees “Parking
fine”. He takes this to mean
that his parking was fine. This
interpretation is flat out
wrong. Here the writer’s intent
and the reader’s understanding
aren’t the same, but sometimes,
with the example of a riddle,
the interpretation can be
none-the-less true. Often times,
an answer to a riddle can be
better than the intended one.
The same is true with symbols.
They’re so great because they
can illustrate things in many
different ways, and their
anchored in reality, so their
truth tends to be universal. Now
back to the riddle in the
catechisms above. What does this
mean? “Three foot and a half
from the lodge door under a
perpendicular ashlar and a green
divot. But under the lap of my
liver where all my secrets of my
heart lie.” Keeping in mind that
the question was “Where are the
keys to your lodge”, not “ the
lodge”, this is a personal
question. The three and a half
feet show that the keys are
outside the lodge. Where would
you find the secrets of masonry
outside a Masonic lodge?
Where would you find a
perpendicular stone on top of
loose green grass? Answer: The
grave. The next part is
puzzling, “Under the lap of my
liver.” It’s been suggested that
it’s a nod towards hermeticism.
It was anciently believed that
the principal organs of the body
were the heart, brains and
liver. It seems to me, however,
that it’s referencing
Prometheus, who revealed the
secret of fire to humans. He was
punished by having an eagle
perpetually eat his liver. The
liver was anciently seen at the
seat of the passions. He later
redeems himself by not revealing
a secret that would have led to
When he’s freed he eats the
eagle (which also represented
passion). Here we see passion
being associated with secrecy, a
possible reference to the
entered apprentice degree and
the ancient symbolic penalties.
In the second catechism
mentioned above we see “A bone
box that neither opens nor shuts
but with ivory keys” We would
think this “bone box” is a
coffin. This bone box is a
skull, the ivory keys are the
teeth. The next few lines of the
catechism makes this clear, :
Q: “Of what metal is it composed?”
A: “Of none . It is a tongue
obedient to reason, which knows
only how to speak well of those
of whom it speaks in their
absence as in their presence” It
would seem that the symbol of
the key now occupies the place
where the instructive tongue and
faithful breast now do.
Freemasonry is at its core an
initiatory society. Of course I
don’t mean that it exists only
to bring in candidates. I mean
to say all members are perpetual
candidates to masonry. A
candidate is “someone who
aspires”, and we all continue to
aspire to many things in
masonry, further light being
chief among them. The symbol of
the key can represent being
unable to understand masonry and
by having a deeper knowledge of
the world, unlock it. Neither
wisdom nor knowledge are on the
surface of things. They take
effort, experience and study.
These are the keys to masonry.
ref: Grand Lodge of Minnesota