Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Three Legged Stool

The following message was delivered at Sterling Lodge No. 22 in Sterling, AK on March 18, 2009.

Masonry is full of symbolism, much of which is separated into groups of threes. For example:

The three degrees of Masonry
The Three Great Lights
The Three Lesser Lights
The Three Precious Jewels
Three knocks
Three steps to the Masters station

You get the idea, and I’m sure you can think of many more examples.

I have long had a fascination with the number three and its simplicity in explaining relationships within organizations. In a different life, I was involved as a volunteer in the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America. I was a District Chairman and provided guidance and leadership to unit leaders and district board members. I often found myself at odds with those at the Council level. I recognized that there were three distinct aspects to the Boy Scouts, which can be described as membership, finance, and program. I also realized that each of these aspects was dependent upon the other two. My frustration was that I thought the Council placed too much emphasis on membership and finance and left the program aspect of Scouting to the volunteers. I felt that, if the promise of Scouting, which was to deliver the outdoor and leadership program to the Scouts, was ignored that membership and finances would also suffer. In essence, I looked as Scouting as a “Three Legged Stool”.

I like to use the analogy of the three legged stool when describing organizations or systems which rely on three attributes, and, if any one of the three is missing, the system or organization will fail. It’s easy to visualize how a stool with only two legs will not stand and if any one leg is substantially shorter than the other two the stool will fall.

Freemasonry is like a three legged stool, in that there are three attributes which so define us that they are the basis of Masonry. We learn in the first degree lecture that, “The three great tenets of a Mason’s profession are: Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth.” It’s hard to imagine that Freemasonry could survive if one of these attributes were missing, and as the first degree charge teaches us, we should be especially careful to maintain them in their fullest splendor. But what are these three attributes and how do they relate to the functioning of our Masonic lodges?

Brotherly Love is that attribute that unites all men in every country. It is the glue that binds us together “into one sacred band or society of friends and brothers.” It is the fellowship which keeps us coming back to lodge to be with brethren with whom we share a common experience. But with fraternalism and fellowship alone we cannot stand as Masons. We might be a club and have a good time in each others company. But we would not be Masons.

Relief is that attribute of charity to those in need. It is the duty incumbent upon us as men and Masons to be compassionate and soothe the afflictions of those less fortunate. It is the duty to give of ourselves and our possessions, without being a burden to our family, to help restore peace to the troubled mind of the afflicted. But with charity and fraternalism together we cannot stand as Masons. We might be a club that is recognized for its philanthropy within the community. But we would not be Masons.

Truth, within the context of Freemasonry, is that attribute of self discovery. It is the casting off of that which diminishes us and endeavoring to improve ourselves through contemplation and intellectual pursuits. It is the study of the symbolism and history of Freemasonry and the application of the moral truths discovered there upon our character development. By fraternalism, charity, and Masonic enlightenment we are Freemasons. And like the three legged stool, if one of these attributes is missing, we cannot stand as Freemasons.

Masonic lodges should practice all three of these tenets equally. They should be havens of fraternity and fellowship where brotherly love prevails, where the brethren are regaled with good food and good friends. They should be involved in their local communities and recognized for their philanthropy and good works. And they should be sanctuaries where good ritual is the order of the day and where the presentation of Masonic education is the rule rather than the exception.

Failure to practice all three tenets constitutes a failure of the lodge and ultimately a failure of Freemasonry.


  1. MW Bro Bo: In your blog of March 19, “The Three–Legged Stool,” you correctly point out that the Three Great Tenets of a Mason’s profession are Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth. With all due respect, I think Truth is being short-changed in the explanation of its importance. If I were to be given the privilege of rewriting the Monitor, I would place it as the No. 1 Tenet. We learn from the Monitor that “Truth is a divine attribute and the foundation of every virtue. To be a good man and true is the first lesson taught in Masonry.” We also pledge that we “came here to improve ourselves in Masonry.” We are charged to set a proper example for others to follow. Therefore, being a good man and true is a personal responsibility, rather than the Lodge’s. Instead of standing in judgment of others, Masonry intends that we ask ourselves questions like: “How am I doing as a Mason?” “Am I handling my dealings with others in a Masonic manner?” True Masonry is practiced, not just in the Lodge room, but in all places with all people at all times under all circumstances. A good man and true will possess or practice the other two tenets without being reminded. But it is not easy. Being a True Mason is hard work.

  2. Very Good, I really enjoyed this! It is so true in Freemasonry that it doesn't work without all THREE "legs"! So true.