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.
A Sad Object of Death. 2017 Pen and ink, Gregory B. Stewart Illustration from the book, The Master Mason.
This work appears in the interior of the book, The Master Mason.
The text it accompanies reads:
“Finding the fellow of the craft free of complicity in the death of Hiram, the master of the lodge turns the candidate to the East, presenting for his view a ‘sad object’ of death—a small skull—whose meaning is said to say ‘I have been, and I am no more,’ and whose further allegorical teaching is to suggest ‘all of the evils which oppress mankind.’”
As overt as the symbolism is in this work, its meaning is just as overt in the contemplation of any memento mori. The skull, quite obviously and composed as such, represents the contemplation of death and the afterlife.
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.