Freemasonry provides metaphorical working tools that we are encouraged to use to better ourselves and the world around us to create beauty and perfection. We speak about the working tools in glowing terms and view them as implements for shaping the perfect stone or ashlar, for forming perfect right angles, and for smoothing the rough surface. Working tools vary from Grand Lodge to Grand Lodge, whether it be the common gavel, twenty-four-inch gauge, square, compasses, level, plumb, skirret, pencil, or even the wagon wheel. Each is given a flowery and almost infallible description in our rituals and lectures, but has anyone pointed out the dark side of the working tools, the destructive nature inherent within each one of them, and within us?
Duality is a part of all aspects of life and is especially pronounced in Masonry. For every positive, there is a negative. Extremes that seem diametrically opposed but cannot exist without one another. Good and evil, light and dark, hot and cold, up and down, the juxtapositions are endless but necessary for our understanding of existence. So too is it with our working tools; the instruments we so venerate as tools for creating perfection can, in the wrong hands, be instruments of utter destruction and harm to ourselves and those around us.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ego as "the self especially as contrasted with another self or the world." We hear the word Ego bandied about often in a negative way; "Oh, that dude has a massive Ego," denoting an inflated sense of self-importance or arrogance. However, the Ego is not a bad thing at all if it is understood and controlled. We were given the Ego for a reason; it serves to do two things. First, the Ego is a wall that we put up to protect ourselves from things that we perceive as harmful to us or our beliefs, such as differing political or religious views. Secondly, the Ego provides the self-confidence or internal encouragement we need. Neither of these is necessarily bad, but they can certainly lead to unfortunate and sometimes catastrophic results. The fallacy is to ignore the Ego and to let it take control. Look no further than the Entered Apprentice Degree. We are to learn to subdue our passions, control our emotions, and control our baser instincts.
Think of the Ego as your apprentice. You, as the craftsman, wield the gavel, and as a dedicated and skilled artisan, you use it judiciously, using just the right amount of force to accomplish the job and create a masterpiece. Now you hand your gavel to a novice, your apprentice, and walk away expecting that he will use the same care and precision that you would use. It is human nature to allow the Ego to take over at times, but when we surrender all control to the Ego, things go off the rails, and often in a spectacular way. Unsupervised in the Ego's hands, the same gavel used to break off the corners of rough stones and form the perfect ashlar can also be used to destroy the very same stone. The Ego tells us we don't need the level or plumb--the wall looks straight enough; we don't need the twenty-four-inch gage, the length looks about right; we don't need the designs upon the trestle board, we'll just make it up as we go along - what's the worst that can happen?
The same analogy can be applied to any of the working tools in Masonry. If a wall is built without adequately applying the plumb, there is a higher likelihood that it will fall. If a wall is built without adequately applying the level, it will slope. If we built a temple on a faulty foundation or an uneven one, no matter how much effort and precision we put into building the rest of the structure, it cannot be stable. There are extremes, polar opposites, and a dark side to everything that is light. The flame from a single candle will cast shadows; there's no way around it.
The Lodge or the Temple is a metaphor for ourselves. We strive to shape the ashlars and form the Temple perfectly. Suppose we hand our working tools over to the Ego and leave it unsupervised. In that case, the animal instinct and arrogance of our baser selves will only bring about imperfection, which risks the entire structure's integrity. You are the craftsman, and the Ego is your apprentice. It can be beneficial but must never be left unsupervised, no matter how noble the intentions. We are not forming one, but thousands of perfect ashlars throughout our lives. No temple is built from just one stone. Our Masonic Temple is built from countless stones carefully hewn over a lifetime. And when at last we lay down our metaphorical working tools, we hope to look upon our Temple and see an edifice of beauty and perfection. By supervising the Ego, we are mindful of the destructive force within the working tools, and we are better enabled to control the chaos and form the perfect ashlar.
Bro. Matt Parker is a member of Wendell Lodge 565 in Wendell, North Carolina, founder of the North Carolina Masonic Research Society, Chair of the Grand Lodge Committee on Public Relations, member of the Grand Lodge Library Committee, 32° Scottish Right Mason, SJ, and member of the York Rite as well as other invitational bodies and esoteric orders.