Why do Freemasons start with their left foot forward?.
A quest by T.V. Srinivasan and Georges L.C. Baekelmans
Presented to Lodge Pitt Macdonald 1198 EC on 24/02/2004
By Bro. Georges L. C. Baekelmans
“In all walks of life, it is customary to take the first step with the right foot but in Freemasonry, the first step is always with the Left Foot. Why is that?”
This is the question we will endeavor to answer in this paper.
Masonry, being a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols once again proves its point. Apparently, not only the secrets of a Master Mason have been lost with the death of H A, but also a lot of the symbols and allegories seem to have slipped into oblivion. It is the task of every Mason to advance in Masonry on a daily basis, if not to ensure that whatever still remains, is properly understood and effected upon. And if possible, to indulge in research, to at least attempt to recover as much as possible of what was lost, not for personal gain, but for the benefit of mankind.
How our search for the reason of starting off with the left foot is linked to that, is revealed in 4 different plausible theories, and even though we might or might not have found the correct answer, the search itself was at least as exciting as the outcome. Most of our research was done through the internet, and whereas many Masonic symbols are explained more than properly by various Masonic researchers, we were stunned by how little information could be found on our left foot issue. We even became member of the official forum of the Emulation Lodge of Improvement, which is being administrated by people seated in the committee that guards our eternal standard. But, to our surprise, even they did not seem to be able to provide us with an answer. This left us no other choice but to present the most plausible ones.
The first theory can be found when we visit the temple of King Solomon. In the following journey, you are a Fellow Craft, on his way to collect his wages in the middle chamber of the temple.
As you reach the temple, you first cross the two pillars and enter. You come across winding stairs. As you enter, you notice that the stairs have a set of three steps, followed by a set of five steps, and finally a set of seven steps. Thus there are fifteen steps. This odd number of steps is not without purpose. The purpose is that you are supposed to start with your left foot, so that you, when you reach the entrance of the temple, you step out with your left foot. A convention which according to Bro. Tijender Singh Rawal from Lodge Corinth in Nagpur, has not lost any significance with the passage of time.
This is the first plausible theory. We start with the left foot down the staircase to arrive with our left foot at the entrance of the temple. But, let me also not keep you from you the rest of your journey, since it is full of symbolism.
The first three steps allude to the three great lights of freemasonry: the Square, the Compass, and the Volume of Sacred Law. They also allude to the three lesser light of freemasonry: the Sun, the Moon and the Master of the Lodge.
The next five steps allude to the five senses of men. Reminding us to exercise due control over our senses. They also allude to the five architectural orders: Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite. Each order had its specialization and you could see the workmanship of each of such order in the Temple. They also allude to the five points of fellowship.
The last set of seven steps alludes to the seven liberal arts and sciences: grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. It reminds you that you are expected to keep on improving your skills in these seven disciplines.
- Grammar, so that you can express yourself properly.
- Logic, in order that you can distinguish good from bad, and can take reasoned decisions when faced with a dilemma.
- Rhetoric, because it beautifies your language.
- Arithmetic because a Mason needs to be calculative in his actions.
- Geometry, because the whole science of temple construction depends upon geometry.
- Music, so that when you shift from labour to refreshment, you are able to appreciate the beauty of life, which is best expressed in terms of music, and last:
- Astronomy because it helps you know the day, and night, to know when to begin the work, and when to stop, to understand the seasons and to know the total area of jurisdiction of the Great Architect Of The Universe
As you reach the outer door, you find that the door is half open, but is close tyled by the Junior Warden, who demands a password. After due satisfaction, you are allowed to enter. There is one more door to be crossed, credentials to be established again to the Senior Warden who lets you in the Middle Chamber.
As you enter, you see a great light emanating from the letter G which is hanging at the Eastern side. The light is so intense that you find it difficult to see any other thing. As your eyes slowly get accustomed to the dazzling light, you notice King Solomon standing on the East together with Hiram, the King of Tyre, and Hiram Abif holding the registers in their hands. They inspect the register and calculate the wages due to you. The wages are paid to you in the form of corn, oil and wine. There was Corn to feed you, wine to help you charge you energies, and the oil to apply to your body.
Having taken your wages, you salute King Solomon, and withdraw from the Lodge, with a promise to return again, whenever summoned.
Even though we found this explanation very interesting, innovative, and amazing to see that every single step in the Ritual Working is replete with meaning and can be interpreted in numerous ways, it did not seem to us as the definite answer; especially the fact that we did not have an answer as to why we should arrive in the temple with our left foot. Before we close this theory, the Brethren will also observe the similarity in this sequence of 3, 5 and 7 steps on the staircase with other parts of our rituals: “Three rule a Lodge, five hold a Lodge, and seven make it perfect” or even more, the number of Steps taken by the candidate before taking the solemn obligation are likewise 3 in the first degree, 5 in the second, and 7 seven in the third.
The second theory starts when we arrive at the Masonic Temple as an Initiate. We are blindfolded and led reverently to the East where the Three Great though emblematical Lights of Masonry await us. After taking the solemn obligation of an Entered Apprentice, the Light is revealed to us. Our entry into Freemasonry is thus figuratively enacted. It is our progress from Darkness unto Light.
Compare this with a well known Vedic Prayer, which, rendered in simple English, translates to:
Lead me from Ignorance to Wisdom
Lead me from darkness to Light
Lead me from Mortality to Immortality
Our progress from Ignorance to Wisdom with the help of the Light from Above to our ultimate destination of attaining Immortality is what Masonry is all about. So, just as being blindfolded and the subsequent restoration of material comfort of physical light is an emblematical representation of our progress from darkness unto light, so the Left Foot forward represents our preparedness to fight Ignorance with Masonic Light. Left Foot forward is a combative stance. Left foot forward gives strength and stability to the Right Hand and loads it with Power to strike. When we enter Masonry, we are at war with our Ignorance and we take a combative posture to fight it out and banish it. As a contrast, when we arrive at a place in a gesture of friendship, we take the Right Foot Forward thus stripping the Right Hand of all its striking power so that it is offered in friendship.
The third theory is given by Bro. C.W. Leadbeater, 33°, in his book “The Hidden Life in Freemasonry” and leads us to another part of the First degree ceremony:
“When the W. M. calls his Lodge to order, all adopt a certain attitude of attention, with a step and a sign, both of which are highly symbolical, and have remained unchanged for a very long period. It should be distinctly understood that a man who joins Freemasonry does thereby take a step forward in evolution, and the fact that his identification as a freemason begins with that step, is a constant reminder and acknowledgement of that.
The Left Foot, because it is nearest to the heart, symbolizes the intuition, while the right foot is supposed to represent intellectual faculty. The meaning of the step is therefore obviously that in occult matters intuition always takes precedence over the mere reasoning process. The position adopted is intended to show that reason must always spring from the centre of right feeling “
Even though this is the first theory that clearly makes a distinction between the left and the right foot, and even denotes a meaning to them, it still does not give an answer as to where this practice, or meaning comes from.
Bro. Leadbeater, being a clairvoyant, claims in his book he has actual ties with the Ancient Egyptian rite. As we come back to Egypt in the next theory, you will see that his explanation does not defer too much from that, yet enough to clearly name them as two different theories.
In our research, we also found one more thing: It is not only in Masonry where ritual perambulation, ambulation or circumambulation starts with the left foot. We found that the priests, on their way to King Solomon’s temple also started the ritual walk with their left foot. The Ancient Druîds followed the same practice.
Let us also take a short look at other religious circumambulations: the Emperor in China moved according to rituals within a square building divided into nine rooms and called Ming Tang ("Temple of Light"), which constituted an image of the Universe. He halted at the twelve openings associated with the twelve signs of the Zodiac. Buddhists turned around the Bodhi-tree as well as their stupas symbolizing the World Axis relating Heaven and Earth. The Old Testament Jews circumambulated the alter. At Mecca, pilgrims go into procession around the Kaaba, a cube-shaped building within the court of the great Mosque that contains a sacred black stone given by Abraham.
In all these cultures, the ritual walk should start with the left foot, and apart of that, we even found that all these circumambulations went in the same direction, being from east to west through the south, just like the sun. And it is this connection to the sun, which brings us back to the time of the Egyptians.
The first degree tracing Board starts off with: “The usages and customs of Freemasons have ever born a near affinity with those of the Ancient Egyptians.” Never in our search had we bothered to look at the obvious…the source of our modern ritual. The ritual worked by the Grand Lodges in Ancient Egypt was known as “The building of the temple of Amen-Ra” – the one God of the ancient Egyptians, the centre of whose manifestation on the physical plane is the sun.
As some of the brethren undoubtedly know, The Book of the Dead, as it was somewhat unfortunately called, was part of a manual which in its entirety was intended as a kind of a guide to the astral plane, containing a number of instructions for the conduct of both the departed and that of the initiate in the lower regions of that other world. One known statement from The Book of the Dead is, that if the candidate violated his oath, his throat was cut and his heart torn out. The Book of the Dead was originally intended to be kept secret, although in later days certain chapters were written on papyrus and buried with the dead man. In one of the texts that has been recovered, the following is said: “The Book is the greatest of Mysteries. Do not let the eye of anyone look upon it – that were abomination. The Book of the Master of the Secret House is its name.”
This was a great clue for our fourth and final theory, which we feel stands a genuine chance of being the correct one. We found an initiation ritual on the internet which claimed to be taken from The Book of the Dead. It is practiced in modern days by an occult group that worships the Ancient Egyptians Gods, but not necessarily in the correct spirit. But in that text, at the end of the ritual, the symbolism of the Step is explained as follows:
The left foot is advanced to represent the power of Isis. Isis is also known as the one to mark a new beginning.
The right foot is represented by Isis’s Devine sister Nephtys, who stands for completion of an action.
To finalize this research, the Brethren might note that in most Egyptian statues of standing figures they are depicted with the “Left” foot forward. This symbolism is to help the subject “GET OFF ON THE RIGHT FOOT”- that foot is the LEFT foot towards its journey in the afterlife. This leaves our animal or physical body behind on one’s journey to Helopolis (City of Light).
We sincerely hope this paper will form ground for discussion, and that it could be the start of many papers to be presented to this Lodge.