Where are the keys to your lodge?

By Elliott Saxton
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 lecture, adjusted for modern English.
Q: Are you a mason?

A: Yes

Q: Where shall I find the key of your lodge?

A: Three foot and a half from the lo
dge 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.

A later version reads:

Q: Have you any key to the secrets of a Mason?


A: Yes.

Q: Where do you keep it?

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.

All Masonic 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 Zeus’ downfall.

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


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