Another section from my paper on the Symbolism of the Ashlars:
Ashalrs and the value of the V.O.T.S.L.
Stephen Dafoe tackles this view of the Ashlars in The Masonic Dictionary. He tells us that we need a consistent standard by which to measure our actions and thoughts. This standard is similar to the role of the Perfect Ashlar in Operative Masonry. Masons used the Perfect Ashlar to test the accuracy of their tools. The accuracy of a tool declines with use and the workman must recalibrate his tools if he is to produce consistent work. In Speculative Masonry, we too must use accurate tools by which to measure our actions and thoughts. Dafoe explains:
The Perfect Ashlar is for the more expert Craftsman to try and adjust his jewels on. In ancient times, with crude tools that would not even be used in this age, workmen of great skill and experience produced material for the construction of the Temple having such perfection that each piece fitted perfectly into its place without adjustment or correction. Time was not one of the essential factors; perfection was the goal. To keep this state of perfection in absolute balance, a standard must have been set whereby the workmen could constantly test their tools to know that continued wear and use had not changed the measurements; even in the slightest degree… In Masonry, we are the workmen, whether we be active or inactive, workers or drones. What are our "jewels", our most prized possession? If we have absorbed any of the teachings Masonry, the building of character and a Christian way of life are two of the many jewels that should constantly be before us. And in the building of that state of perfection to which we attain, what Perfect Ashlar have we that we might go to and "try" the tools with which we have been working, to know that they are still of fine quality and in perfect condition for the job that lies before us.
Robert Macoy goes further:
The Perfect Ashlar is a stone of a true square, which can only be tried by the square and compasses. This represents the mind of a man at the close of life, after a well-regulated career of piety and virtue, which can only be tried by the square of God’s Word, and the compasses of an approving conscience.
While American Lodge rooms typically contain the Holy Bible, this symbolic view of the Ashlars does not exclude other sacred texts. Religious liberty is a proud tradition of Freemasonry and Lodges use the V.O.T.S.L. appropriate to their brothers. The emphasis here is not on the particular example of the Word but instead on the role it serves in a Freemason’s life. Dafoe continues:
In every Masonic Lodge there rests on the Altar in the centre of the room the V.O.T.S.L. It is the solid foundation upon which Masonry in our lives is built. It never changes. Civilizations may come and go, but the Book of Books remains the same, adaptable to all conditions and manner of men, in good times and bad, in peace or war, a guide for mankind. How often do we consult this Guide to try and adjust the jewels which are ours and which may need to be altered to get them back to that state of perfection which we as Masons should endeavor at all times to hold as our standard way of life?
As Freemasons, is our exposure to the “Book of Books” limited to readings we hear in Lodge, and if so, how are we calibrating our working tools?