We are evolved creatures.
Why do I know this?
Is it because of computers, the telephone or our ability to think abstractly?
It is all because of shoes!
We wear them for comfort and to protect ourselves. They keep our feet dry and warm. Shoes protect us from rocks, snow and other hazards. We have shoes specialized for our work and our play. We even put shoes on our animals and our cars. They keep us safe and help us to get where we want to go. They are integral to our lives and we must have them – just ask your wives!
I bring the topic of shoes to you today to discuss our interesting use of shoes in Masonic Symbolism.
Like most obscure things there is even a special name for how we manage foot wear in the Lodge – The Rite of Discalceation.
The Rite of Discalceation is an old one in Masonry and the World. It is older than our ritual and has been performed by countless cultures in the past.
We unknowingly submit to this ancient rite before we cross the doors of this Lodge. Our intender demands we remove our shoes and put on the magic pajamas in the ante room. We are asked to leave a foot completely bear in the first and second degrees.
We are drug around a room, with one foot cold and the other hobbled in an ill fitting slipper or sock – afraid to stub our toes as we follow our conductor.
Later we learn that this is an ancient custom between two people and it is referred to as “Plucking off one’s shoe”. But what exactly does this mean?
The book of Ruth specifically talks about this Rite:
“Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbor; and this was a testimony in Israel.” Ruth 4:7 KJV
So what exactly does this have to do with Masonry? Why do we take off our shoes before we enter the Lodge? Is that all it is supposed to mean? More especially why only have part of our footwear on at a time? I believe like many Masonic symbols that it is layered and has many meanings.
In the first instance and from the Biblical account we know that the parties traded shoes to show that a transaction had occurred, because the possession of one shoe was evidence that something had happened. In the case of a bargain both parties would have a shoe. It it was therefore often thought of as a sign of sincerity and obligation to another. The idea is that there is truth and sincerity in the transaction
Secondly this rite is combined with our overall appearance as we enter the lodge, “…neither barefoot, nor shod, neither naked nor clad, hoodwinked…” to make a point about what condition we are in coming into the lodge. We are sloppy, half naked, blind and can’t even manage to protect ourselves. The idea is that we cannot do this on our own and need help from others and the GATOU to find light.
Thirdly this rite shows that there is a transference of power. Giving up a shoe is debilitating and requires forethought. (It was also very important in ancient times because who would want to wander around without shoes!) In our case the loss of a shoe shows us we are giving up authority and power to someone else – the Lodge. What is it we are giving up here? I believe it is our personal will as we work to achieve our goal of finding more light. We are willing to make a bargain to get what we are looking for. The idea here is that we are relinquishing the “self” to the power and authority of the Lodge and the GATOU.
Fourthly the rite is combined with the Rite of Circumambulation, or the rite of walking around. The rite that forces an experience of fatigue, hard work and a journey to get what we are in search of. The idea here is that we have to work for what we want/need.
We perform this rite three times. Each a little different than the others. Specifically in the third degree we are completely barefoot. What does this mean exactly? Why on earth would we give up all our shoes?
We are on Holy Ground.
It is an ancient custom to prepare oneself before going into a Holy place. Ritual washing and cleansing, including the feet was particularly important so the Pilgrim would not infect or desecrate the Holy place with outside influences. (This is called the Rite of Lustration) The one thing they could not clean were their shoes – so they left them at the door.
In Exodus 3:5 Moses finds God as the Burning Bush and has a direct command from God:
5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
When I was in India some years back I found that many holy places and temples expected visitors to remove their shoes and leave them at the door. We learned to place our shoes out of the way as there were often piles and piles of shoes near temples. It was expected that bare feet would be the only things to touch the ground. The idea being that the participant would be more closely connected with spiritual.
So too we expect our MM candidate before they enter into the Holy of Holies to remove their shoes – they are entering sacred ground.