There are 3 degrees in Freemasonry. Each is a ceremony that teaches the history and principles of Freemasonry. The three degrees equate to body, mind and spirit, the three essential parts of man.
In the first degree the emphasis is on the physical and its objective is from darkness to light. It is symbolised by the rough Ashlar and the working tools are those implements needed to work on the unshaped stones brought to light from the darkness of the quarries. The consciousness of the first degree is at the level of instinct and its pillar represents physical strength and is therefore crowned with the terrestrial globe.
In the second degree the emphasis is on the powers of the mind and its objective is from ignorance to knowledge. It is symbolised by the smooth Ashlar and the working tools are designed to perfect and prove the stone after rude matter has been brought into due form. The consciousness of this degree is at the level of intellect and its pillar represents wisdom and is therefore crowned with the celestial globe.
In the third degree the emphasis is on the spirit and the objective is to build the Temple, not made with human hands, eternal in the Heavens. Its symbol is the blazing star, its consciousness is at the level of intuition, the voice of Nature, and its pillar is that of Beauty. Beauty depends on balance and harmony.
The objectives of the three degrees - illumination through the search for light, wisdom through the increase in knowledge, and transformation through the process of death and renewal - portray the story of the evolution of human consciousness leading ultimately to enlightenment.
The above is an extract from the address Given by Lord Northampton, Pro Grand Master, United Grand Lodge of England, at their Summer Conference 2005.