IT IS WITHOUT QUESTION that in Masonry, the four cardinal virtues are paramount in importance and figure prominently in the proper training of a Mason. In many jurisdictions, tassels are a fundamental part of the furniture of the Lodge and are located in appropriate places about the lodge-room. In other jurisdictions, tassels appear on the tracing board only. In those jurisdictions employing tassels, these items play an important part in the training of candidates. The question arises whether there is a correlation between the four cardinal virtues and the four tassels. This includes the question whether it is important to designate a specific tassel to a specific cardinal virtue and whether a specific tassel and cardinal virtue have an appropriate location in the lodge-room. This paper reviews the importance of the cardinal virtues and the tassels, and addresses the correlation between the two on the basis of comparison among various jurisdictions.

It is universally recognized that the four principal cardinal virtues in Masonry are Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice. These are often represented by various figures, usually female.

It may be stated that the cardinal virtues have been connected with Masonry since time immemorial. One source has suggested that the ‘cardinal virtues came from the Latin word “cardo”, meaning “a hinge.” ` Old Roman writers applied ‘cardinal’, meaning the most important, to the four points of east, west, north and south, and to the winds blowing from those directions.’ East symbolized wisdom; west, strength, north, darkness., and south, beauty.’

It has been suggested that the cardinal virtues (that is, the most important virtues) were associated by the philosophers of ancient Greece well over 2000 years ago and handed down through the ages in the group of four.’ They have been found in a book of the Apocrypha, the Wisdom of Solomon: ‘Wisdom teaches temperance and prudence, justice and fortitude, which are such things as men can have nothing more profitable in life.`

The cardinal virtues, ‘which we know in everyday life as good judgment and common sense, moderation and self‑control, courage and endurance, and honesty and sincerity; they are the marks of one who in the words of the Ancient Charge is “a good man and true”.’

It has been argued that the first Craft symbols of the cardinal virtues were printed on a linen handkerchief in 1769 and showed tassels at the four corners.’

It is sometimes suggested that the cardinal virtues have been regarded as corner stones upon which the walls of the temple were raised.’ During the Middle Ages, they were considered as the four walls of the Temple of God.

The ceiling of the Grand Temple in Freemason’s Hall, London, England displays the cardinal virtues as being the ‘Perfect Points of Entrance’, to wit: ‘Guttural the throat, Pectoral the breast, Manual the hands and Pedal the feet’. Neither ritual seems to refer to ‘tassels’.

One article has given specific positions for the tassels as well as the cardinal virtues. The article is a mixture of both the Canadian and American rituals. This article places the tassels and cardinal virtues as follows: In the northwest corner is Temperance which is related to guttural, since the throat is the avenue of the body which is most employed in the sins of intemperance. Temperance refers to the entrance upon the penal responsibilities and ‘lest any brother should forget the danger to which he is exposed in the unguarded hours of dissipation, the virtue of temperance is wisely impressed upon his memory by its reference to one of the most solemn portions of the ceremony of initiation.’

In the northeast corner is Fortitude which is related to pectoral since the heart has always been considered the seat of fortitude and courage and hence by this word is suggested to the Mason certain symbolic instructions in relation to the virtue of Fortitude.

In the southeast corner is Prudence which is related to manual since Masons are, in a peculiar manner reminded, by the hand, of the necessity of a prudent and careful observance of all their pledges and duties, and hence this organ suggests certain symbolic instructions in relation to the virtue of Prudence.

In the southwest corner is Justice which is related to pedal, since the just man is one who, firmly planting his feet on the principles of right, is as immovable as a rock, and can be thrust from his upright position neither by the allurements of flatter nor the frowns of arbitrary power. And hence this word is suggested to the Mason certain symbolic instructions in relation to justice.

Questions and answers from a lecture in Lancashire, England, dating to the end of the 18th century included the following:

Q:                    What do you furnish it with?   A: The four cardinal virtues.

Q:                    What are they?         A: Justice, Prudence, Temperance and Fortitude.

Q:                    How do you place them?   A:  Justice in the east, Prudence in the west, Temperance in the south and Fortitude in the north.

Mackey, in referring to tassels, stated that ‘one finds them defined as the pre‑eminent or principal virtues on which all other hinge or depend. He added that in the 18th century the Freemasons delineated the symbols of the four cardinal virtues by the acute angle disposed. Thus, suppose you face the East, the angle symbolizing Temperance will point to the south, it was called Guttural. Fortitude was denoted by a Saltire, or St. Andrew’s Cross. This was the Pectoral. The symbol of Prudence was an acute angle pointing toward the Southeast, and was denoted Manual; and Justice

had its angle toward the north, and was called Pedestal, or Pedal. The possession of cardinal virtues is no special distinction of Freemasons, for other societies had them.”

In the Canadian Rite, the relationship between the Principal Points of Entrance, the Cardinal Virtues and the Tassels are summarized as follows: Pendant to the four corners of the Lodge room are four tassels. These four tassels are described as referring to the four principal points ‑ the guttural, pectoral, manual, and pedal, and through them to the four cardinal virtues, namely Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice, the practices of which are inculcated in the first degree.”

Whilst the above appears to apply to North America and is illuminating it does not appear to be in accord with the practice adopted by the UGL of NSW and ACT as the Lodge rooms that I have inspected have the four Cardinal Virtues placed as follows,- Temperance is in the N.E. corner; Justice in the N.W. corner; Fortitude in the S.E. corner and Prudence in the S.W. corner.

It does not matter that the practice adopted elsewhere differs from our own as it encourages us to approach symbolism with an open mind. We see how others have interpreted the meaning but it does not stop us from coming to our own conclusions, and that is another connotation of the word ‘free’.

R.W. Bro Robert Taylor

Circumspection means to look around and is the necessary basis for prudence and temperance. To be prudent, one must be well informed; one must have looked around and considered all phases of the situation; and one cannot be temperate unless one has appraised his surroundings and is able to judge what is reasonable and what is extreme. Those who act from prejudice, passion, or superstition are unable to look around themselves and be safe judges of things even for their own interest, much less the safety of society or the nation.