The Gavel

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
RWB Joshua Herbig

The Gavel has long been considered a symbol of authority. Within a Masonic Lodge, it represents the authority placed by the Members of the Lodge upon the shoulders of all Three Principal Officers: The Worshipful Master; the Senior Warden; and the Junior Warden. Yet, it comes mostly into its own in this role as the symbol of authority for the Worshipful Master. It is he who has been elected by the Brethren as the Chief Executive of the Lodge and mandated to rule and govern the Lodge with Equal Parts of both Regularity and Justice. We are often told about the authority of the Worshipful Master and his responsibility to keep the peace and harmony of the Lodge intact, sometimes with a single, definitive rap of his Gavel. With this in mind, let us more closely examine how and why the Gavel can symbolize the exercise of authority.

Freemasons place the Common Gavel as the second working tool to which a newly made Freemason is entitled, preceded only by the 24-inch Gauge and followed by the Plumb, Square, Level and Trowel. The first working tool, the 24-inch Gauge gives us a multitude of lessons, the primary of which is the measuring of our time and how we spend it upon this earth. It reminds us to shape ourselves and our behaviors to better exist within this physical world and the time which we have within it, which is set and must be managed accordingly, before moving on to the spiritual existence awaiting us when our time here is completed. This is a very important moral lesson, but there is more underneath the surface. The 24-inch Gauge, as a practical tool, is one means by which we are able to measure the world around us. It allows us to begin to take stock of our physical surroundings and begin to understand the External as opposed to the Internal. The lesson of measuring the physical world to better understand our place in it repeats with the Plumb, Square, and Level. These additional three tools provide moral lessons as well, but also provide practical ways with which we refine our measurements and understanding of the world that surrounds us. The correct use of these tools allows us to progress from definitive measurements found by using the tools themselves, into the ability to think and extrapolate from known ideas, moving from the External and translating that into a framework for understanding the Internal. These four working tools provide the measurements by which we understand our place in this world and measure how we are to work on and improve ourselves. They allow us to create and refine a template for improvement, but that improvement requires force and action in order to affect a change.

This brings us to the Common Gavel and Trowel, which are not tools of measurement and contemplation but are solely tools of action. They both represent different kinds of action, however, namely destruction and creation. They are the medium by which we actively translate our thoughts, ideas, and willpower, after careful contemplation using the lessons of the other tools of measurement, into force, by which we shape ourselves and the world around us. The Common Gavel allows us to actively shape rough and incongruent components into polished and useable pieces. The Trowel then allows us to reassemble those pieces to create a grand edifice, a building or structure whose beauty greatly surpasses the sum of the individual parts which were assembled to create it. It requires patience and effort to use the trowel correctly to build, yet as a tool, it is utterly useless if the parts with which it is creating the building are not correctly shaped and ready for their proper use. This process of breaking down and shaping is the sole responsibility of the Common Gavel, which is, at its most basic, a medium of destructive force.

While the Force of the Gavel is by its very nature destructive, as it is intended to break things apart or down, this force should not be blind and stupid, exerted with excessive strength onto any task set before it. Rather, it should be controlled; directed by a singular thought and desire to ensure that only enough force is exerted to produce the desired change or effect. A massive stone cannot easily be broken down with light raps from a gavel without needing an amount of time completely unavailable to the lifetime of a man, as we see with the 24-inch gauge. Conversely, the most delicately wrought stonework can be completely and utterly destroyed with the application of a mighty blow with the Gavel upon its delicate surface and structure. Yet at the same time, a single large stone can be broken down into smaller and more manageable pieces by a massive blow placed correctly upon it. Additionally, a small and delicate stone can be adjusted into the proper location within a structure by the application of light taps to gently shift its position. The force of the Gavel can very easily create unwanted destruction with blind or excessive force. It is only with precision and skill, a proper balancing of Strength and Wisdom that allow the Force of the Gavel to be used to create the best-fitting component parts which, when assembled, become a testament of Beauty.

The use of the Common Gavel is inherently necessary to produce the proper pieces to build an amazing edifice, but it is the prudent and judicial wielding of that destructive force that allows those pieces to be correctly shaped. The requirement for the Worshipful Master to use force or wield power in the proper governing of a Lodge makes the Gavel a fitting symbol of the authority invested in him by the Lodge to manage it. However, to the Worshipful Master himself, the Gavel remains a reminder of the inherent requirement to use that power and authority with control and forethought, applied only where and as needed, with only as much force as required to achieve the intended effect. For only then will the Worshipful Master truly balance the requirements of Strength with the forethought and lessons of Wisdom, to achieve within the Lodge a representation of that Beauty inherent in the heavenly kingdom to which we all strive.


RWB Josh Herbig is a Freemason from the area of Saint Louis, Missouri, USA. He is a Past Master of Gateway Lodge #40 in Creve Coeur, Missouri, and currently serves as the District Deputy Grand Lecturer for the 27th Masonic District of The Grand Lodge of Missouri, A.F.&A.M. He is also a 32nd-Degree Scottish Rite Mason and is a member of the Education Committee for the Scottish Rite Valley of Saint Louis, where he serves as Assistant Instructor for the Master Craftsman-Symbolic Lodge Study Group hosted by the Valley. Additionally, he is a member of Moolah Shrine, A.A.O.N.M.S. 

Josh is currently working as a Project Manager for a Mechanical Contracting Company serving the greater St. Louis region. Josh also Retired as a Sergeant First Class from the United States Army Reserves on April Fool’s Day of 2019, after 22+ years of service and multiple overseas and home station deployments. In his free time, Josh enjoys several hobbies, from making Masonic Gavels to scuba diving, snow skiing, welding, and some minor blacksmithing. He currently lives in the Old Monroe, Missouri area with his wife Julie and their three children.

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