Modern Third-Degree Masonic Tracing Board. 2006 Digital illustration Gregory B. Stewart
This work is a modern representation of the Masonic First-Degree Tracing Boards of old. It is filled with metaphor and symbolism, fluent to all Apprentice Masons.
Tracing boards are visual mnemonics created to illustrate the meanings and principals of Freemasonry as taught within the degrees. The symbolism is very Western, but the symbolism has been adapted for the modern mason.
In the image there are many symbolic cues. In adapting this piece, the most significant change is the replacing of the Holy Bible with the major religious symbols of the world. These symbols of faith, in my opinion, represent the modern Freemason.
What this work represents visually is the journey through which the a neophyte becomes an apprentice mason. On that journey, he is introduced to the three Graces, the allegorical ladder, and the idea of the pillars, crowned here with the sun, moon and blazing star in the canopy of the heavens.
Since this work was originally created it has appeared in a number of locations around the world including as murals, covers to esoteric works and emblems of fraternal societies. It strikes a cord for many at a deep level, capturing the essence of initiation into Freemasonry.
Ein Sof (or Ayn Sof) into Malkuth: The Endless One, No End, Unending, Becoming, 2014 Pen and ink Gregory B. Stewart
Originally created as the major frontispiece for The Apprentice, the following is a short selection of the descriptive text that accompanied it. It reads:
Upon the frontispiece of this short work is an illustration depicting the transformative journey from chaos to order – from Ein Sof into the sphere of Malkuth.
Those looking upon this image for the conventions of Masonic initiation will not see them and become quickly lost in its relevant symbolism and devices. While this board purports to hold secret symbolism, its allegorical lesson is not in its many parts, but in its overall message of transformation. What it represents is initiation and transformation, from chaos to order (ordo ab chao), presenting the initiate the opportunity to ascend higher into the limbs of the majestic Kabbalistic Tree of Life, itself a metaphor of transformation in understanding our evolution to the divine.
The chaos from which we come is like a network of roots warped and entwined, choking and starving for nourishment that comes from the light above. Its network striking deep into the foundations of the Prima Materia, the primal earth, never knowing or understanding that their nourishment and growth comes from above.
The Allegorical Tree, 2015
Pen and ink
Gregory B. Stewart
This work was devised as the small frontispiece image and book cover for the work, The Apprentice,
Originally appearing barely larger than a postage stamp, the symbolism at work in this image resonates much more deeply when observed at a larger scale. In it, the tree represents a literal tree of life, emulating the movement and nuance of the imagined tree of the Kabbalistic tradition.
The tree of life is a symbolic representation of an inner journey through progressive steps of enlightenment. The present-day symbol has been adapted from Western Mysticism which has syncretic origins from Jewish mysticism through the adoption of the Kabbalah. In both these approaches, the symbol functions as a scaffold or schema where the initiate progresses up and down the structure through various learnings and meditations.
In this use, the tree of life is a direct representation through the degrees of blue lodge and Scottish Rite Freemasonry.
By taking that path, the literal and allegorical tree of life grows and branches up into the higher degrees. While this may not be part of the masonic cannon, it has found resonance in many of the esoteric aspects of the first three and higher degrees.
Modern Second-Degree Masonic Tracing Board. 2007
Gregory B. Stewart
From its original context, this digital illustration represents the process of becoming a Fellow of the Craft in Freemasonry.
As it was included in the book, Fellow of the Craft, part of the text that accompanies the work reads:
In this image, you will notice several key aspects of the degree. We must interpret the image and the degree overall so as to contemplate it more as a sum total equation and see it as a reflection on our own personal journey of the Great Work.
Between the pillars of Boaz and Jachin on the left and right, bordered by the waters of primordial chaos and the canopy of heaven, we begin our inward journey of perfection. This journey is an eternal one and concluded only in reaching and understanding the divine through a faith practice or in the perfection of our being through the contemplative tradition we ascribe.
As this is only the second step in the journey, it is one its recipients should spend many years perfecting and renewing so as to reach a level of enlightenment and joy which comes at the end of a life well spent.
Modern Third-Degree Masonic Tracing Board. 2010
Gregory B. Stewart
This work has had many lives and graced many a web-site and book cover.
In its original context, this digital illustration represents the process of becoming a Master Mason. As it was included in the book, The Master Mason, part of the text that accompanies the work reads:
Here, in this tracing board, the focus of the teaching is on the transformation that the seeker undergoes in their quest towards becoming a master and member of the virtuous fraternity. Our journey upon the ladder and steps brings us to the gates of the temple, which ends in our allegorical death—the culmination of which being the faint glimmer of the divine spark as emitted from our creator. It is our choice to acknowledge this and complete our connection to it. And, like a faith tradition, the symbols and allegories are taught to create a common understanding with those who have traveled a similar path. The hope of completing this loop is the return to the Golden Rule, in that great proverb of “do unto others as you would have done to yourself.” The allegory of the ruffians illustrates their own ignorance of this principle.
Created as the cover image for the book, this rendering evolved out of what started as a meditative sketching session resulting in a rough, but finished, study of the esoteric tree.
The context and symbolism in the work is vast, from the three pillars towering over the all-seeing eye of the great architect but connected to the trees anchored to the firmament below.
The symbolism here-in is that of the three pillars in the construct of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Known individually as Strength, Wisdom and Beauty, these iconic emblems are the subtext to the becoming of a Master Mason in the tradition.
This work, Anima Mundi, is an amalgam of the various traditions at work in a Hermetic understanding at work within Freemasonry.
In its summation, the illustration brings together elements of the first and second degrees by means of an armillary sphere at the bottom (from the Apprentice degree) and the multi-storied tower or ziggurat structure (from the Fellow of the Craft degree) crowned now by the full moon in eclipse by the both living and dead tree of life. These elements bringing the viewer through a visual representation of the first two steps of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life: First through the Sepheriot of Malkuth, the foundation; then up upon the path of Tav — our pathway from the firmament into the heavens.
At last, the observer being made to approach the final leg of the journey on their way to the symbolic lodge. The goal of this journey to become a master and gaze out into the universe for what comes next.
The work is highly symbolic and serves to educate as much as entertain the viewer with its symbolism.