Tracing Boards ?

A City with Secrets – London

Craft Floor Plan in the Temple


A framework of board or canvas, on which the emblems of any particular Degree are inscribed, for the assistance of the Master in giving a lecture. It is so called because formerly it was the custom to inscribe these designs on the floor of the Lodge-room in chalk, which were wiped out when the Lodge was closed. It is the same as the Carpet, or Tracing-Board. The washing out of the designs chalked upon the floor is seen in the early caricatures of the Craft where a mop and pail are illustrated. These would soon be put aside when Lodges met in carpeted rooms. Then the symbols were shown by marking out the Lodge with tape and nails or shaping the symbols in wood or metal to be laid upon the floor or table or pedestal as the case might be in the Lodge. Such use of separate symbols we have seen in English Lodges, as at Bristol, where the ancient ceremonies are jealously and successfully preserved. An easy development would be to picture the designs on a cloth to be spread out on the floor when in use or folded up for storage. Then there would be the further movement to the stereopticon slides of a similar character, and which find frequent use in the United States. Brother John Harris in 1820 designed and made a set of Tracing Boards for the Three Degrees. These designs were never authorized by the Grand Lodge of England, the individual Lodges employed their own artists and the results varied accordingly, though the influence of Brother Harris tended to the uniformity that practically now prevails among Tracing-Board makers. Articles of much interest and value on the subject are "Evolution and Development of the Tracing or Lodge Board," by Brother E. H. Dring (Transactions, Quatuor Coronati Lodge, 1916, volume xxix, pages 243 and 275), and "Some Notes on Tracing Board of the Lodge of Union, No. 38" by Brother O. N. Wyatt (Transactions, Quatuor Coronati Lodge, 1910, volume xxiii, page 191). The latter article refers particularly to the work of Brother Josiah Bowring, a portrait painter of London, who painted the boards for the Chichester Lodge in 1811, himself being initiated in 1795. Thanks to Phoenixmasonry Masonic Museum



Above 1st Degree Tracing Board

Above 2nd Degree Tracing Board

Above 3rd Degree Tracing Board

Typically what was done was to draw on the floor (and this was the Tyler's job) either an oblong or a slight variation of an oblong that represented the form of the Lodge or the original enclosure of the original outdoor Lodge meetings. This original shape was typically called an oblong square. It got renamed in the18th century to a word that has be-devilled us ever since: "parallelepipedon." There's a remnant of earlier language used in the Senior Warden's lecture in the First Degree; I quote from Page 45 of the Ancient Ritual: "Our ancient Brethren usually met on a high hill or in a low dale, the better to detect the approach of cowans or eavesdroppers either ascending or descending. The form of a L. is an oblong, its length from E. to W., its breadth from N. to S., its height from the earth to the heavens, its depth from the earth's surface to its centre. It is of such vast dimensions to show the universality of Freemasonry and that M. charity should be equally extensive."  ... to read the full script, click here

The Third Tracing Board (Extension)

This is the Hebrew letter H (Pronounced Hay) which is the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet and is therefore the equivalent to the numeral 5.
It refers, firstly, to the five p.ts o. f..l..s..p; secondly, to the five s..ns of the degree, of which three have already been communicated to you and the remaining two will be communicated later in the ceremony; thirdly, to the five sacred Hebrew treasures:
. The Ark of the Covenant
. The Cherubim
. The Tablets of the Sacred Law
. The Pot of Manna, and
. Aaron's Rod.

The Ark of the Covenant was a rectangular chest made of acacia wood, nearly four feet long and two and half feet broad and deep. It was covered with gold and at each end of the lid was the figure of cherub with outstretched wings to symbolise the presence of GOD. The lid was known as the Mercy Seat. Inside the chest were deposited the two Tablets of Stone inscribed with the ten Commandments, the Pot of Manna and Aaron's Rod. When the Temple was built the Ark was placed in the Most Holy Place of the Sanctuary which was hidden with a veil.

These are the last words on each of several lines of an inscription written in Hebrew on a scroll. The remaining words are hidden by the fold of the parchment on which they are written. The words are:
. Temple
. Jerusalem
. Israel
. Tyre
. Abi (or A..)
. in 992 in the 3rd thousand (which means 2992)

The full inscription is said to have been, "The Temple of Jerusalem was completed by S K of I, H, K of T, and HA in the year 2992

The last two lines may be taken together. They consist of six single letters, the first three being CCC and the others FFZ. They refer to a portion of the seventh section of the First Lecture: - read more

"How long should an E.A. serve his master
"Seven years."

"How should he serve him
"With Freedom, Fervency and Zeal."

"Excellent qualities, what are their emblems?
"Chalk, Charcoal and Clay."

The Entered Apprentice Mason should serve his Master with freedom, fervency, and zeal, which are represented by Chalk, Charcoal, and Clay. There is nothing freer than Chalk, the slightest touch of which leaves a trace; there is nothing more fervent than Charcoal, for to it, when properly ignited, the most obdurate metals will yield; there is nothing more zealous than Clay, our mother earth, for it alone of all the elements has never proved unfriendly to man.


A mid 19 century tracing board ... note the body in an open grave and the Sprig of Acacia at the head ... Hebrew writings on the right-hand side, and on the left Cypher ... but what are their meanings ? To see a larger graphic click here


Below is a Harris-Type Third Degree Board

The pigpen cipher uses graphical symbols assigned according to a key similar to the diagram on the right. The pigpen cipher (sometimes called the masonic cipher or Freemason's cipher) is a simple substitution cipher exchanging letters for symbols based on a grid. The use of symbols is no impediment to cryptanalysis however, and cryptanalysis is identical to that of other simple substitution schemes. The example key shows one way the letters can be assigned to the grid. The scheme was used so often by the Freemasons that it is often called the Freemason's cipher, using it in the early 1700s to keep their records private and for correspondence. Due to the simplicity of the cipher, it is often included in children's books on ciphers and secret writing
Read more about Pigpen cipher here

The cipher does not substitute one letter for another; rather it substitutes each letter for a symbol. The alphabet is written in the grids shown, and then each letter is enciphered by replacing it with a symbol that corresponds to the portion of the pigpen grid that contains the letter read more


Read more about Cypher here

Q. ‘What is the origin of the black and white pavement?’ 

A. The squared pavement, now preserved in our carpet almost certainly is derived from the floor pattern. This type of flooring is very evident in art particularly Dutch interiors of both churches and houses of important people. As has happened so often freemasonry has used a common artifact and given it a more esoteric meaning

B. "The pavement, alternately black and white, symbolizes whether so intended or not, the Good and Evil Principles of the Egyptian and Persian creed. It is the warfare of Michael and Satan, of the Gods and Titans, of Balder and Lok ; between light and shadow, which is darkness; day and night ; freedom and despotism ; religious liberty and the Arbitrary dogmas of a church that thinks for its votaires, and whose Pontiff claims to be infallible, and the decretals of its councils to constitute a Gospel."

So brethren, now that should give you something to think about, why not do a bit of research yourself