Masonic Tracing Boards

Tracing boards are painted or printed illustrations depicting the various emblems and symbols of Freemasonry. They can be used as teaching aids during the lectures that follow each of the Masonic Degrees, when an experienced member explains the various concepts of Freemasonry to new members. They can also be used by experienced members as self-reminders of the concepts they learned as they went through their initiations.

History and Development

The Masonic tracing board took several decades to develop into its pictorial form. Initially a chalk drawing was made on the table or floor in the centre of the hired tavern room in which a Masonic Lodge met, the work being executed either by the Tyler or Worshipful Master. Evidence suggests that a simple boundary in the shape of a square, rectangle (or “double square”), or a cross was drawn first, with various Masonic symbols often of a geometric type (e.g., circle, pentagram, etc.) were drawn later, the former usually being drawn by the Tyler and the latter possibly by the Master. Later various symbolic objects, (such as a ladder, beehive, etc.,) were added and sometimes drawings were interchangeable with physical objects. At the end of the work a new member was often required to erase the drawing with a mop, as a demonstration of his obligation of secrecy.

Though the various Grand Lodges were then generally hostile to the creation of any physical representations of the Ritual and symbols of the Craft, the time-consuming business of redrawing the symbols at every meeting was gradually replaced by keeping a removable “floor cloth” to display the symbols, and of which different portions might be exposed according to the agenda. By the second half of the eighteenth century the Masonic symbols were being painted on a variety of removable materials ranging from small marble slabs to canvas, to give a more decorative and elaborate symbolic display. By the mid-nineteenth century tracing boards had become fairly common, and a variety of different forms and designs survive, some to be displayed on the floor and others vertically. Sets of three boards, corresponding to the three degrees, are now an accepted, though unofficial, part of Craft Freemasonry, and there are sometimes tracing boards in other degrees. As different Masonic jurisdictions established official, or standard, degree rituals the creation of new tracing boards by Freemasons waned and has since all but entirely disappeared in favour of standard designs.



Learn more about the concepts, principles and symbolism behind the subliminals found in these Tracing Boards: