The following is a collection of Masonic symbols and their meanings, relevant to the practice of Freemasonry. The purpose of this list is to acclimate and educate new and existing Masons and those interested in Masonic study. While a unique system, Freemasonry has borrowed and modified a variety of religious and quasi-religious symbols to help convey aspects of the ritual practice in the lodge. While taken at face value, many of these symbols may seem or feel odd or eccentric, in-and-of themselves. But, when viewed together in the larger collection of symbols, they illustrate a broad allegorical story of morality, fraternal association and life lessons from which the newly made Mason may come to understand the teachings of the organization.
Have a favorite symbol? Missing one? Leave it in the comments below and we’ll add it to the list.
The Symbols of Freemasonry
- Gavel, Common
- Globes, The
- Great Architect of the Universe, The
- Great Work, The
- Holy of Holies (Sanctum Sanctorum)
- Holy Saints John
- Incense, Pot of
- In Hoc Signo Vinces
- Jacobs Ladder
- Moon, The
- Mosaic Pavement
- Mystic Tie
- North East Corner
- Operative Masonry
- Orders of Architecture
- Ordo Ab Chao
47th Problem of Euclid
In the Year 3650 (300 B.C.E.), Anno Mundi, which was 646 years after the building of King Solomon’s Temple, Euclid, the celebrated geometrician, was born.
Euclid has been always associated with the history of Freemasonry, and in the reign of Ptolemy Soter, the Order is said to have greatly flourished in Egypt, under his auspices. The well-known forty-seventh (47th) problem of his first book, although not discovered by him, but long credited to Pythagoras, has been adopted as a symbol in Masonic instruction.
Many and varied, abbreviations in Freemasonry usually represent less a shortening of material and more a means of obscuring their meaning to the uninitiated.
Read more on Masonic Abbreviations.
The Acacia is a highly symbolic plant with both quasi-religious aspects and more modern day connections to occult and psychoactive aspects used in ritual practice.
Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, says:
An interesting and important symbol in Freemasonry. Botanically, it is the acacia vera of Tournefort, and the mimosa nilotica of Linnaeus, called babul tree in India. The acacia arabica grew abundantly in the vicinity of Jerusalem, where it is still to be found, and is familiar in its modern use at the tree from which the gum arabic of commerce is derived.
The acacia is called in the Bible Shittim, which is really the plural of Shittah, which last form occurs once only, in Isaiah 41:19, which reads “I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set junipers in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together…” . It was esteemed a sacred wood among the Hebrews, and of it Moses was ordered to make the tabernacle, the ark of the covenant, the table for the shewbread, and the rest of the sacred furniture (Exodus 25-27).
The sprig of acacia, then, in its most ordinary signification, presents itself to the Master Mason as a symbol of the immortality of the soul, being intended to remind him, by its ever-green and unchanging nature, of that better and spiritual part within us, which, as an emanation from the Great Architect of the Universe, can never die.
More on the Acacia as a Masonic Symbol.
The all-seeing eye is an emblem found in every well-furnished Masonic lodge around the world. The representation of which is an allegorical symbol of deity – abstract yet omnipresent.
Yet, further explanation is necessary to detail the Eye of Providence. While most many lodges make use of the letter G to stand in as a representation deity, the All Seeing Eye, has that same function, perhaps with a more artistic flare.
Albert Mackey, MD, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and its Kindred Sciences, writes this succinct observation on the meanings behind the eye in his entry for the All-Seeing Eye:
“An important symbol of the Supreme Being, borrowed by the Freemasons from the nations of antiquity. Both the Hebrews and the Egyptians appear to have derived its use from that natural inclination of figurative minds to select an organ as the symbol of the function which it is intended peculiarly to discharge. Thus, the foot was often adopted as the symbol of swiftness, the arm of strength, and the hand of fidelity.”
More on the All-Seeing Eye.
Anchor and the Ark
Taken together, the anchor and the ark are symbols representative of a life well-spent. The ark symbolizes the journey over the rough seas of life and the anchor as a symbol of immortality and a safe rest in eternal tranquility.
From the ritual of the third degree:
The anchor and the ark are emblems of a well-grounded hope and a well-spent life. They are emblematic of that divine ark and anchor which safely bears us over this tempestuous sea of troubles, and that anchor which shall safely moor us in a peaceful harbor, where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary shall find rest.
Taken from Biblical sources, the anchor as described in Hebrews 6:19, saying:
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain,
And the ark is emblematic of the divine ark of Noah that bears us over this rough seas of life. From Genesis 7:1, which reads:
The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation.
Anno Depositionis (In anno depositi)
Royal and Select Masters or Cryptic Masons (York Rite) use this date as the year from which the Temple of Solomon, roughly 950 B.C.E., was completed. It is called Anno Depositionis (A.D.), which means “In the year of the Deposit” (from the Latin “In the Deposition” translated as In anno depositi). The deposit, one can assume, to be the Ark of the Covenant and the commandment tablets of Moses or perhaps the lost word of Freemasonry.
Time, as anno depositi, is calculated by adding 1000 to the current date.
Anno Inventionis (In anno Inventionis)
Royal Arch Masons date time from the year the second temple was commended by Zerubbabel. Anno Inventionis (A.I.) ,which translates from Latin as “the Discovery” is taken to translate as “In the year of Discovery,” (In anno Inventionis) and is the terminology used by Royal Arch Chapters.
To calculate Anno Depositionis, add 530 to the current year to derive the A.I. date.
Blue Lodge Freemasonry’s calendar commences with the imagined creation of the world and uses the term Anno Lucis (A.L.) – “In the year of Light” to represent that date. This date structuring comes from the theological convention that the world began in 4,000 B.C.E with the Great Architect of the Universe and its utterance of “Let there be light,” and light was created.
To derive the Anno Lucis date, add 4000 to the present year.
Scottish Rite Freemasonry follow the pattern of craft Freemasonry (see Anno Lucis) instead using the Jewish Chronology which sets the date based upon the biblical accounts of the creation of the world. The formula of Anno Mundi (A.M.) is based on twelfth-century C.E. rabbinic estimates for the year of creation in the Hebrew calendar beginning at sunset of October 6, 3760 B.C.E. This creates a annual calculation of 3,760 + the given year to derive the Anno Mundi date.
Anno Ordinis (In anno Ordinis)
Knights Templar start their calendar with the formation of the order in 1118 AD. Anno Ordinis (A.O.) is the Latin translation of “In the year of the Order” more specifically translating to “In Order” To calculate A.D. one would deduct 1,118 from the calculating year.
Of the many symbolic emblems of Freemasonry, none is more iconic that the lamb skin apron. Alien outside of the lodge, within the tiled lodge it represents the totality of what it means to be a Mason. It’s said to be more noble than the Roman Eagle or the Golden Fleece, the Masonic apron is literally, the badge of a Mason carried with him into the next existence.
Albert Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, says:
There is no one of the symbols of Speculative Masonry more important in its teachings, or more interesting in its history, than the lambskin, or white leather apron. Commencing its lessons at an early period in the Mason’s progress, it is impressed upon his memory as the first gift which he receives, the first symbol which is explained to him, and the first tangible evidence which he possesses of his admission into the Fraternity. Whatever may be his future advancement in the “royal art,” into whatsoever deeper arcana his devotion to the mystic Institution or his thirst for knowledge may subsequently lead him, with the lambskin apron-his first investiture-he never parts. Changing, perhaps, its form and its decorations, and conveying, at each step, some new but still beautiful allusion, its substance is still there, and it continues to claim the honored title by which it was first made known to him, on the night of his initiation, as “the badge of a Mason.”
Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, says of this symbol,
The Neo-Platonicians introduced at an early period of the Christian era an apparently new science, which they called the Sacred Science, which materially influenced the subsequent condition of the arts and sciences. In the fifth century arose, as the name of the science, alchemia, derived from the Arabic definite article al being added to chemia, a Greek word used in Diocletian’s decree against Egyptian works treating of the transmutation of metals; the word seems simply to mean “the Egyptian Art,” or the land of black earth being the Egyptian name for Egypt, and Julius Firmicus Maternus, in a work On the Influence of the Stars upon the Fate of Man, uses the phrase scientia alchemiae. From this time the study of alchemy was openly followed. In the Middle Ages, and up to the end of the seventeenth century, it was an important science, studied by some of the most distinguished philosophers, such as Avicenna, Albertus Magnus, Raymond Lulli, Roger Bacon, Elias Ashmole, and many others.
Freemasonry and alchemy have sought the same results (the lesson of Divine Truth and the doctrine of immortal life), and they have both sought it by the same method of symbolism. It is not, therefore, strange that in the eighteenth century, and perhaps before, we find an incorporation of much of the science of alchemy into that of Freemasonry. Hermetic rites and Hermetic degrees were common, and their relics are still to be found existing in degrees which do not absolutely trace their origin to alchemy, but which show some of its traces in their rituals. The Twenty-eighth Degree of the Scottish Rite, is entirely a Hermetic degree, and claims its parentage in the title of Adept of Masonry, by which it is sometimes known.
The Ashlars are not just two pieces of stone. They represent what we have been and what we hope to be. It is up to each individual Mason to pass his own judgment on himself and to adjust his jewels accordingly, so that when the time comes and he lays down his tools and makes the final journey to the Grand Lodge Above, he may leave behind a reputation as a wise counselor, a pillar of strength and stability, a Perfect Ashlar on which younger Masons may test the correctness and value of their own contribution to the Masonic order.
More on the Masonic ashlars.
Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, says of the Beehive, The bee was among the Egyptians the symbol of an obedient people, because, says Horapollo, “of all insects, the bee alone had a king.” Hence looking at the regulated labor of these insects when congregated in their hive, it is not surprising that a beehive should have been deemed an appropriate emblem of systematized industry. Freemasonry has therefore adopted the beehive as a symbol of industry, a virtue taught in the instructions, which says that a Master Mason” works that he may receive wages, the better to support himself and family, and contribute to the relief of a worthy, distressed brother, his widow and orphans;” and in the Old Charges, which tell us that “all Masons shall work honestly on working days, that they may live creditably on holidays.” There seems, however, to be a more recondite meaning connected with this symbol. The ark has already been shown to have been an emblem common to Freemasonry and the Ancient Mysteries, as a symbol of regeneration—of the second birth from death to life. Now, in the Mysteries, a hive was the type of the ark. “Hence,” says Faber (Origin of Pagan Idolatry, volume ii, page 133), “both the diluvian priestesses and the regenerated souls were called bees; hence, bees were feigned to be produced from the carcass of a cow, which also symbolized the ark; and hence, as the great father was esteemed an infernal god, honey was much used both in funeral rites and in the Mysteries.” This extract is from the article on the bee in Evans’ Animal Symbolism in Ecclesiastical Architecture.”
More on the Beehive in Freemasonry.
Pike, in Morals and Dogma in the 25th degree, Knight of the Brazen Serpent, says of the symbol,
The Blazing Star in our Lodges, we have already said, represents Sirius, Anubis, or Mercury, Guardian and Guide of Souls. Our Ancient English brethren also considered it an emblem of the Sun. In the old Lectures they said: “The Blazing Star or Glory in the center refers us to that Grand Luminary the Sun, which enlightens the Earth, and by its genial influence dispenses blessings to mankind.”
Pike, in an earlier degree (the Apprentice) says that The Blazing Star in the center is said to be “an emblem of Divine Providence, and commemorative of the star which appeared to guide the wise men of the East to the place of our Savior’s nativity.” He goes on to say, “[t]he Blazing Star or Glory in the center refers us to that grand luminary, the Sun, which enlightens the earth, and by its genial influence dispenses blessings to mankind.” They called it also in the same lectures, an emblem of PRUDENCE. The word Prudentia means, in its original and fullest signification, Foresight; and, accordingly, the Blazing Star has been regarded as an emblem of Omniscience, or the All-seeing Eye, which to the Egyptian Initiates was the emblem of Osiris…”
Gage, in Builders Magazine (1915), says of the symbol that it is the “seed and the source of all life and eternal life.”
The Blazing Star is one of the three ornaments of the masonic lodge.
In Freemasonry, the broken column is, as Master Freemasons well know, the emblem of the fall of one of the chief supporters of the Craft. The use of the column or pillars as a monument erected over a tomb was a very ancient custom, and was a very significant symbol of the character and spirit of the person interred. It is accredited to Jeremy L. Cross that he first introduced the Broken Column into the ceremonies, but this may not be true.
Looking at Cross’s application of the virgin and broken column, an examination from Stellar Theology and Masonic Astronomy, Robert Hewitt Brown says of the composition, “The whole emblem may therefore be astronomically explained as follows: The virgin weeping over the broken column denotes her grief at the death of the sun, slain by the wintry signs. Saturn standing behind her and pointing to the summit of the zodiacal arch denotes that Time will heal her sorrows, and, when the year has filled its circuit, her lord the sun will arise from the grave of winter, and, triumphing over all the powers of darkness, come again to her embraces.
More on the broken column.
More on the weeping virgin.
By the exercise of Brotherly Love we are taught to regard the whole human species as one family, the high and the low, the rich and the poor, who, as created by one Almighty Parent (God) and inhabitants of the same planet, are to aid, support and protect each other. On this principle Masonry unites men of every country, sect and opinion; and cause true friendship to exist among those who otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.
Chamber of Reflection
One of the greatest enigmas of contemporary Freemasonry, the Chamber of Reflection is a little-used aspect in the rituals of a newly made Mason. Yet, the symbolism of the Chamber has roots in Hermeticism, Rosicrucianism and other occult traditions.
In modern Free-Masonry, the chamber of reflections is equivalent to the alchemical siphon, where the Recipient shall experience transmutation by means of the conjugation and regulating of his/her recondite energies. The Profane “descends to the Infernos”, he must die first, in order to “resuscitate” and attain the light of Initiation. There he shall leave the dealings of the exterior world, there will be an interior abstraction, like the original matrix, so that he can emerge from the depths of the earth (the chaotic dense matter) to the subtleness of the spirit.
One of the three great lights in Masonry and defined as an implement “to circumscribe and keep us within bounds with all mankind, but more especially with a brother Mason.”
Pike, in Morals and Dogma, defines the compass as an emblem that describes circles, and deals with spherical trigonometry, the science of the spheres and heavens. The former, therefore, is an emblem of what concerns the earth and the body; the latter of what concerns the heavens and the soul. Yet the Compass is also used in plane trigonometry, as in erecting perpendiculars; and, therefore, you are reminded that, although in this Degree both points of the Compass are under the Square, and you are now dealing only with the moral and political meaning of the symbols, and not with their philosophical and spiritual meanings, still the divine ever mingles with the human; with the earthly the spiritual intermixes; and there is something spiritual in the commonest duties of life.
More the Masonic compass.
Corn, Wine and Oil
Corn, wine and oil were the wages paid our ancient brethren. They were the “master’s wages” of the days of King Solomon. Masons of this day receive no material wages for their labors; the work done in a lodge is paid for only in coin of the heart. But those wages are no less real. They may sprout as does the grain, strengthen as does the wine, nourish as does the oil. How much we receive, what we do with our wages, depends entirely on our Masonic work. A brother obtains from his lodge and from his Order only what he puts into it. Our ancient brethren were paid for physical labors. Whether their wages were paid for work performed upon the mountains and in the quarries, or whether they received corn, wine and oil because they labored in the fields and vineyards, it was true then, and it is true now, that only “in the sweat of thy face shall thou eat bread” To receive the equivalent of corn, wine and oil, a brother must labor. He must till the fields of his own heart or build the temple of his own “House not made with hands.” He must give labor to his neighbor or carry stones for his brother’s temple.
More on Corn, Wine and Oil.
Covering of a Lodge
The Covering of a Lodge is no less than the clouded canopy or star-decked heaven where all good Masons hope at last to arrive by aid of that theological ladder which Jacob, in his vision, saw, reaching from earth to heaven, three principal rounds of which are denominated Faith, Hope and Charity, which admonish us to have faith in God, hope of immortality and charity for all mankind. The greatest of these is Charity; for Faith may be lost in sight, Hope ends in fruition, but Charity extends beyond the grave, through the boundless realms of eternity.
Ear of Corn
Ear of corn, which is a technical expression in Freemasonry, has been sometimes ignorantly displaced by a sheaf of wheat. This was done under the mistaken supposition that corn refers only to Indian maize, which was unknown to the ancients. But corn is a generic word, and includes wheat and every other kind of grain. This is its legitimate English meaning, and hence an ear of corn, which is an old expression, and the right one, would denote a stalk, but not a sheaf of wheat. From Mackley’s Encyclopedia.
The first rung in the theological ladder, Faith in Freemasonry is defined as “the evidence of things not seen.” No less important than Hope and Charity, Faith is one of the first essential qualities essential to the qualification of a candidate.
Read more on Faith in Freemasonry.
The Common Gavel is an instrument used by operative Masons to break off the rough and superfluous parts of stones, the better to fit them for the builder’s use. But, as Free and Accepted Masons, are taught to make use of it for more noble and glorious purpose of divesting their hearts and consciences of all the vices and superfluities of life; thereby fitting their minds as living stones for that spiritual building, that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
The principal use of Globes in Freemasonry, besides serving as maps to distinguish the outward parts of the earth and the situation of the fixed stars, is to illustrate and explain the phenomena arising from the annual revolution of the earth around the sun and its diurnal rotation upon its own axis. They are valuable instruments for improving the mind and giving it the most distinct idea of any problem or proposition, as well as for enabling it to solve the same. Contemplating these bodies, Freemasons are inspired with a due reverence for the Deity and His works and are induced to encourage the studies of astronomy, geography, navigation, and the arts dependent upon them, by which society has been so much benefited.
Great Architect of the Universe, The
The title applied in the technical language of Freemasonry to the Deity.
More on the GAotU.
Great Work, The
What is the Great Work? The easiest way to define what it is is to say that The Great Work is the quest for knowledge that ends in wisdom.
More on The Great Work.
Holy of Holies (Sanctum Sanctorum)
A Latin term that may be literally translated translated as “Holy of Holies.” This term is used to describe the innermost chamber of King Solomon’s Temple.
It was here in this most sacred place that the Ark of the Covenant was placed during the dedication of the temple. Masons are taught in the third degree that when the lodge is opened in the Master Mason degree that it represents the sanctum sanctorum of King Solomon’s Temple.
More on the Lodge as a Sanctum Sanctorum.
Holy Saints John
From the Masonic perspective we are given the balanced dualism of John the Baptist on one side and John the Evangelist on the other. Represented together this way represent the balance of passionate zeal with and learned knowledge of faith forming a space to reflect on to and channel our passion as well as our education/knowledge. Individually strong, together they stand as a harnessed focus of zeal and knowledge.
More on the Holy Saints Johns.
Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, defines the hourglass as an emblem connected with the Third Degree, according to the Webb lectures, to remind us by the quick passage of its sands of the transitory nature of human life. As a Masonic symbol it is of comparatively modern date, but the use of the hourglass as an emblem of the passage of time is older than our oldest known rituals. Thus, in a speech before Parliament, in 1627, it is said: “We may dan dandle and play with the hour-glass that is in our power, but the hour will not stay for us; and an opportunity once lost cannot be regained.” We are told in Notes and Queries (First Series, v, page 223) that in the early part of the eighteenth century it was a custom to inter an hour-glass with the dead, as an emblem of the sand of life being run out.
Incense, Pot of
The Pot of Incense is an emblem of a pure heart, which is always an acceptable sacrifice to the Deity; and, as this glows with fervent heat, so should a Masons heart continually glow with gratitude to the great and beneficent Author of our existence, for the manifold blessings and comforts we enjoy.
In Hoc Signo Vinces
On the Grand Standard of a Commandery of Knights Templar these words are inscribed over “a blood-red Passion Cross,” and they constitute in part the motto of the American branch of the Order. Their meaning, “By this sign thou shalt conquer,” is a substantial, but not literal, translation of the original Greek. For the origin of the motto, IN HOC SIGNO VINCES (pronounced “In hoke seeg-noh ween-case” from the Latin) we must go back to a well known legend of the Church, which has, however, found more doubters than believers among the learned. Eusebius, who wrote a life of Constantine says that while the emperor was in Gaul, in the year 312, preparing for war with his rival, Maxentius, about the middle hours of the day, as the sun began to verge toward its setting, he saw in the heavens with his own eyes, the sun surmounted with the trophy of the cross, which was composed of light, and a legend annexed, which said “by this conquer.”
The allegorical tale of the Biblical Jacob and his dream (Genesis 28:10-17) within which, as Pike says, “the mason’s mind is continually directed, and thither he hopes at last to arrive by the aid of the theological ladder which Jacob in his vision saw ascending from earth to Heaven; the three principal rounds of which are denominated Faith, Hope, and Charity; and which admonish us to have Faith in God, Hope in Immortality, and Charity to all mankind.” Accordingly a ladder, sometimes with nine rounds, is seen on the chart, resting at the bottom on the earth, its top in the clouds, the stars shining above it; and this is deemed to represent that mystic ladder, which Jacob saw in his dream, set up on the earth, and the top of it reaching to Heaven, with the angels of God ascending and descending on it. The addition of the three principal rounds to the symbolism is wholly modern and incongruous. See the three muses, below.
Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, writes of the keystone, that it is “The stone placed in the center of an arch which preserves the others in their places, and secures firmness and stability to the arch. As it was formerly the custom of Operative Masons to place a peculiar mark on each stone of a building to designate the workman by whom it had been adjusted, so the Keystone was most likely to receive the most prominent mark, that of the Superintendent of the structure. Such is related to have occurred to that Keystone which plays so important a part in the legend of the Royal Arch Degree.
The objection has sometimes been made, that the arch was unknown in the time of Solomon. But this objection has been completely laid at rest by the researches of antiquaries and travelers within a few years past. Wilkinson discovered arches with regular keystones in the doorways of the tombs of Thebes the construction of which he traced to the year 1540 B.C., or 460 years before the building of the Temple of Solomon. And Doctor Clark asserts that the Cyclopean gallery of Tiryns exhibits lancet-shaped arches almost as old as the time of Abraham. In fact, in the Solomonic era, the construction of the arch must have been known to the Dionysian Artificers, of whom, it is a freely received theory, many were present at the building of the Temple.
What are the landmarks is a question often asked, but never determinately answered.
In ancient times, boundary-stones were used as landmarks, before title-deeds were known, the removal of which was strictly forbidden by law. With respect to the landmarks of Masonry, some restrict them to the O. B. signs, tokens, and words. Others include the ceremonies of initiation, passing, and raising; and the form, dimensions, and support; the ground, situation, and covering; the ornaments, furniture, and jewels of a Lodge, or their characteristic symbols. Some think that the Order has no landmarks beyond its peculiar secrets. It is quite clear, however, that the order against removing or altering the landmarks was universally observed in all ages of the Craft.
Paul Bessel remarks that “more than a majority of U.S. Grand Lodges have not adopted any specific landmarks. Many are very unclear about what landmarks, if any, they have or follow”
Mackey lists the landmarks as:
- Modes of recognition
- Division of symbolic Masonry into three degrees
- Legend of the 3rd degree
- Government of the fraternity by a Grand Master
- Prerogative of the Grand Master to preside over every assembly of the Craft
- Prerogative of the Grand Master to grant dispensations for conferring the degrees at irregular times
- Prerogative of the Grand Master to give dispensations for opening and holding Lodges
- Prerogative of the Grand Master to make Masons at sight
- Necessity for Masons to congregate in Lodges
- Government of lodges by a Master and 2 Wardens
- Necessity of tiling lodges
- Right of every Mason to be represented in all general meetings of the Craft and instruct representatives
- Right of every Mason to appeal from his Lodge to the Grand Lodge or General Assembly of Masons
- Right of every Mason to visit and sit in every regular Lodge
- No unknown visitor can enter a Lodge without first passing an examination
- No Lodge can interfere in the business of another Lodge or give degrees to brethren of other Lodges
- Every Freemason is amenable to the laws and regulations of the Masonic jurisdiction in which he resides, even though he may not be a member of any Lodge
- Candidates for initiation must be men, unmutilated (not a cripple), free born, and of mature age
- Belief in the existence of God as the Great Architect of the universe
- Belief in a resurrection to a future life
- A “Book of the Law” is indispensable in every Lodge
- Equality of all Masons
- Secrecy of the institution
- Foundation of a speculative science upon an operative art, and symbolic use and explanations for the purpose of religious or moral teaching
- These landmarks can never be changed
Roscoe Pound lists the landmarks as:
- Belief in God
- Belief in the persistence of personality — the immortality of the soul
- A “book of the law” as an indispensable part of the lodge
- Legend of the third degree
- Symbolism of the operative art
- A Mason must be a man, free born, and of age
Anderson lists and defines the landmarks in his Constitution from 1723.
- Concerning GOD and RELIGION
- Of the CIVIL MAGISTRATES SUPREME and SUBORDINATE
- Of LODGES
- Of MASTERS, WARDENS, FELLOWS and APPRENTICES
- Of the MANAGEMENT of the CRAFT in WORKING
- Of BEHAVIOUR
- In the LODGE while CONSTITUTED
- after the LODGE is over and the BRETHREN not GONE
- when BRETHREN meet WITHOUT STRANGERS, but not in a LODGE Formed
- in presence of Strangers NOT MASONS
- toward a Strange BROTHER
In 1950, the Commission on Information for Recognition of the Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America upheld the ancient landmarks as three:
- Monotheism — An unalterable and continuing belief in God.
- The Volume of The Sacred Law — an essential part of the furniture of the Lodge.
- Prohibition of the discussion of Religion and Politics (within the lodge).
Joseph Fort Newton, in The Builders (1914), defined the landmarks as:
- The fatherhood of God
- the brotherhood of man
- the moral law
- the Golden Rule, and
- the hope of life everlasting
More on the Landmarks:
- Landmarks And Liabilities by S. Brent Morris
- Redefinition of the Ancient Landmarks of the Order, 1939
- Women and the Ancient Landmarks
In its culmination, [the third degree] is the transition through life and death in order to be reborn anew with an understanding of the spiritual world that has always been around us but now made visible. The moon, here, is key as Yesod leads to our understanding of becoming an emblem of the reflective nature we assume in this transformation. Like the moon, we reflect the light of the Great Architect capturing what is impossible to see without becoming blinded by its radiance. This is, of course, a metaphor but no less appropriate to the change we undergo and the purpose we assume in becoming masters. Like the moon, each of us reflect the glory of the divine sun in phases, exerting our gravitational force over the tides of our interactions.
More on the Moon in Freemasonry.
The Mosaic pavement is an old symbol of the Order. It is met within the earliest rituals of the last century. It is classed among the ornaments of the Lodge in combination with the indented tessel and the blazing star. Its parti-colored (showing different colors or tints) stones of black and have been readily and appropriately interpreted as symbols of the evil and good of human life.
More on the Mosaic Pavement.
That sacred and inviolable bond which unites men of the most discordant opinions into one band of brothers, which gives but one language to men of all nations and one altar to men of all religions, is properly, from the mysterious influence it exerts, denominated the mystic tie; and Freemasons, because they alone are under its influence, or enjoy its benefits, are called “Brethren of the Mystic Tie.”
More on the meaning of the mystic tie.
North East Corner
H.L. Haywood, in his Symbolical Masonry (1923), defines the ssignificanceof the Northeast corner as,
When the candidate, reinvested with that of which he had been divested, is made to stand in the Northeast Corner of the lodge as the youngest Entered Apprentice, both the position in which he stands and the posture of his body have reference to such laws of the “new life” in Masonry as are deserving of careful consideration. It has long been observed, and that for the most obvious reasons, that Northeast is neither North nor East, but a midway situation partaking of both. If we recall that the North is the place of darkness, the symbol of the profane and unregenerated world, and that the East is the place of light, the symbol of all perfection in the Masonic life, you will see that it is fitting that an Apprentice be made to find his station there; for by virtue of being an Apprentice he is as yet neither wholly profane nor wholly initiate, having yet much light to receive in Masonry.
By Operative Masonry, Freemasons allude to a proper application of the useful rules of architecture, whence a structure will derive figure, strength and beauty, and from which will result a due proportion and just correspondence in all its parts. It furnishes us with dwellings and convenient shelters from the vicissitudes and inclemencies of the seasons; and, while it displays the effects of human wisdom., as well in the choice as in the arrangement of the several materials of which an edifice is composed, it demonstrates that a fund of science and industry is implanted in man for the best, most salutary and most beneficent purposes.
Orders of Architecture
The idea of divine architecture came directly from Vitruvius’s work as divine proportions were very much a consideration in every design. In his book of Architecture, in Book IV the middle three pillars, Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian, are described in by their physical traits for use in the temples of their celestial counterparts. From an esoteric stand point, we can start to infer much of how this translates to our work as a Freemason, building that unseen house.
More on the Orders of Architecture.
Ordo Ab Chao
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness.
Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, defines this obscure Latin expression as meaning Order out of Chaos. A motto of the Thirty-third Degree, and having the same allusion as lux en tenebris, which see in this work. The invention of this motto is to be attributed to the Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite at Charleston, and it is first met with in the Patent of Count de Grasse, dated February 1, 1802. When De Grasse afterward carried the rite over to France and established a Supreme Council there, he changed the motto, and, according to Lenning, Ordo ab hoc, Order out of This, was used by him and his Council in all their documents. If so, it was simply a blunder.
The Mason is informed that the Three Supporting Pillars of the Lodge are Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty “because it is necessary that there should be wisdom to contrive, strength to support, and beauty to adorn all great and important undertakings”: he cannot but gather from the lectures and the work, particularly of the First Degree, that the Lodge is the symbol of the World: therefore, when he combines these two conceptions and draws the necessarily resulting conclusion, he arrives at the same understanding of the ultimate symbolic significance of the Three Pillars as did the ancient Hindus–the Three Supporting Pillars of the Lodge are, considered as a group, the symbol of Him Whose Wisdom contrived the World, Whose Strength supports the World, Whose Beauty adorns the World-Deity.
More on the The Symbolism of Pillars in Freemasonry.
Point Within the Circle
The point within a Circle is another symbol of great importance in Freemasonry, and commands peculiar attention in this connection with the ancient symbolism of the universe and the solar orb. Everybody who has read a Masonic Monitor is well acquainted with the usual explanation of this symbol. We are told that the point represents an individual brother, the circle the boundary line of his duty to God and man, and the two perpendicular parallel lines the patron saints of the order—St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist.
So far, then, we arrive at the true interpretation of the masonic symbolism of the point within the circle. It is the same thing, but under a different form, as the Master and Wardens of a lodge. The Master and Wardens are symbols of the sun, the lodge of the universe, or world, just as the point is the symbol of the same sun, and the surrounding circle of the universe.
But the two perpendicular parallel lines remain to be explained. Every one is familiar with the very recent interpretation, that they represent the two Saints John, the Baptist and the Evangelist. But this modern exposition must be abandoned, if we desire to obtain the true ancient signification.
More on the point within Point Within a Circle.
To relieve the distressed is a duty incumbent on all men, but particularly on Masons, who are linked together by an indissoluble chain of sincere affection. To soothe the unhappy, to sympathize with their misfortunes, to compassionate their miseries, and to restore peace to their troubled minds, is the great aim we have in view. On this basis we form our friendships and establish our connections.
Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, says of the ruffians, “Theosophical and occultist writers have argued that the combined endings of the three names of the Ruffians form together the mystical, Brahmin AUM, and from this they argue that Freemasonry conceals mysteries from the Far East, etc. Historians have found that Speculative Freemasonry arose in England and developed out of Operative Freemasonry which was for some four or five centuries spread over Britain and Europe; an argument composed of speculations about so slight a fact as the endings of three names is not sufficient to overthrow the massive accumulation of data collected by those historians.
Equally disastrous to the theory is the fact that at one time or another the Ruffians have had other names, and have differed in number; also, the a, u, m endings became crystallized in the Ritual after the founding of Speculative Freemasonry. In the old catechism called The Whole Institutions of Freemasons Opened, a short document published in Dublin in 1725, occur these curious sentences: “Your first word is Jachin and Boaz is the answer to it, and Grip at the forefinger joint.—Your 2nd word is Magboe and Boe is the answer to it, and Grip at the Wrist. Your 3rd word is Gibboram, Esimbrel is the answer.”
The origin of the Ruffians themselves is undiscovered; perhaps when the Ritual came to be enacted, instead of being largely composed of a set of drawn symbols with verbal explanations, they were introduced and given their names; if so, the endings may be nothing more than a form of verbal symmetry. (The subject of the many instances of verbal symmetry in the Work, along with other forms of symmetry such as 3, 5, 7, etc., awaits research; if the research were conducted according to the canons of literary analysis, in addition to historical analysis, it might yield light on the origin of the form of the Work now in use. Symmetry cannot be either coincidental or accidental, but must imply redaction, or editorship, or authorship. Bro. and Prof. David Eugene Smith has suggested that the three names are suspiciously like certain old variations on the Hebrew word for “jubilee.”)”
The Scythe in Freemasonry is an emblem of time which cuts the brittle thread of life and launches us into eternity. Behold what havoc the scythe of time makes among the human race! If by chance we should escape the numerous evils incident to childhood and youth, and with health and vigor arrive to the years of manhood, yet withal, we must soon be cut down by the all-devouring scythe of time, and be gathered into the land where out fathers have gone before us.
Signs of Distress
In a society whose members ought fraternally to love and assist each other, it is to be expected that they should have a sign whereby they could make themselves known immediately to their brethren, in however distressed circumstances they might be placed, and thereby at the same time claim their assistance and protection. This is the sign of distress, in conjunction with a few words. He who falls into the greatest difficulty and danger, and supposes that there is a brother within sight or hearing, let him use this sign, and a true and faithful brother must spring to his assistance.
The presence of King Solomon’s Temple in ancient thought, from the earliest Old Testament writings to the pinnacle of renaissance occult philosophy has preserved it as an iconographic representation of the path to the divine. Solomon’s temple is not a solitary place in history, used as a simple metaphor in which to base an allegorical play. Instead, it is a link in early Christian Cabala and Hermetic thought, which is just as vital today, as it was then, to the tradition of Freemasonry. Still a metaphor but a more profound one whose importance is not often explored or represented in modern Masonic thought. Looking at the ideas of this renaissance philosophy, I believe that philosophy becomes squarely linked to the past, present, and future of Freemasonry and to King Solomon’s Temple.
More on King Solomon’s Temple.
By Speculative Masonry Masons learn to subdue the passions, act upon the Square, keep a tongue of good report, maintain secrecy, and practice charity. It is so far interwoven with religion as to lay masons under obligations to pay that rational homage to the Deity which at once constitutes their duty and their happiness. It leads the contemplative Mason to view with reverence and admiration the glorious works of the Creation and inspires them with the most exalted ideas of the perfections of his Divine Creator.
The square, in its simplest terms, is the element at the bottom of the iconic Masonic logo.
There is no need to say that the Square we have in mind is not a Cube, which has four equal sides and angles, deemed by the Greeks a figure of perfection. Nor is it the square of the carpenter, one leg of which is longer than the other, with inches marked for measuring. It is a small, plain Square, unmarked and with legs of equal length, a simple try-square used for testing the accuracy of angles, and the precision with which stones are cut. since the try-square was used to prove that angles were right, it naturally became an emblem of accuracy, integrity, rightness. As stones are cut to fit into a building, so our acts and thoughts are built together into a structure of Character, badly or firmly, and must be tested by a moral standard of which the simple try-square is a symbol.
More on the symbol of the square.
In its simplest terms, it is the ineffable name of God.
In defining the form of the lodge, Wilmshurst defines the use of the Tetragrammaton as “the Hebrew name of Deity, as known and worshipped in this outer world, was the great unspeakable name of four letters or Tetragrammaton, whilst the cardinal points of space are also four, and every manifested thing is a compound of the four basic metaphysical elements called by the ancients fire, water, air and earth. The four-sidedness of the Lodge, therefore, is also a reminder that the human organism is compounded of those four elements in balanced proportions. “Water” represents the psychic nature; “Air,” the mentality; “Fire,” the will and nervous force; whilst “Earth” is the condensation in which the other three become stabilized and encased.”
Pike sums the idea of the Tetragrammaton as the personification of diety, inclusive of the ten Sephiroth and corresponding to the Tetractys of Pythagoras.
Regarding the Tetractys, Mackey says, “the Greek word signifies, literally, the number four, and is therefore synonymous with the quaternion; but it has been peculiarly applied to a symbol of the Pythagorean, which is composed of ten dots arranged in a triangular form of four rows.”
Three Muses (Faith, Hope and Charity), the the Three Principal Rounds
At their simplest, the three muses represent Faith in God, Hope in Immortality, and Charity to all mankind.
From an article in The Craftsman (1897), it says, “it is alleged that in the mysteries of Brahma and in the Egyptian mysteries this ladder is also to be found. But this fact seems a little doubtful especially as the Egyptian mysteries little is known. The ladder is, however, to be seen among the hieroglyphics. In the Brahmic mysteries there is, we are told a ladder of seven steps, emblematic of seven worlds. The first and lowest was the Earth; the second, the World of Preexistence; the third, Heaven; the fourth, the Middle World, or intermediate region; the fifth, the World of Births; the sixth, the Mansions of the Blest; and the seventh, the Sphere of Truth. Some little difference of opinion exists as to the representation of the Brahmic teaching. It has been stated that in Hermetic or higher Masonry, so-called, the seven steps represent Justice, Equality, Kindness, Good Faith, Labor, Patience and intelligence. They are also represented as Justice, Charity, Innocence, Sweetness, Faith, Firmness and Truth, the Greater Work, Responsibility. But this is quite a modern arrangement in all probability. In Freemasonry it has been said that the ladder with its seven rungs or steps represents the four cardinal and three theological virtues which in symbolism seems to answer to the seven grades of Hermetic symbolism. It must be remembered that we have no actual old operative ritual before us, and on the other hand we must not lay too much store by the negative evidence of later rituals – that is, because we do not find until then actual mention of certain words and symbolism therefore conclude they did not exist earlier. On the whole, Jacob’s ladder in Freemasonry seems to point to the connection between Faith and Heaven, man and God, and to represent Faith, Hope and Charity; or, as it is declared, Faith in God, Charity to all men, and Hope in Immortality.
Tracing Boards are a symbolic visual medium depicting various portions, emblems and symbols of Freemasonry and the initiatic process. Often they are used as teaching aids during the lectures that follow each of the Masonic Degrees. In this process, they are used as visual representations of the various concepts surrounding Freemasonry. Tracing boards also function as meditational reminders of the experience of becoming a Freemason. In early lodge practice, these boards were drawn with impermanent chalk so that they could be wiped away at the completion of a ceremony. Today they come in many formats including painted, printed and digitally.
More on Tracing Boards.
The trowel is an instrument made use of by operative masons to spread the cement which unites a building into one common mass; but we, as Free and Accepted Masons are taught to make use of it for the more noble and glorious purpose of spreading the cement of brotherly love and affection; that cement which unites us into one sacred band, or society of friends and brothers, among whom no contention should ever exist, but that noble contention, or rather emulation, of who best can work and best agree.
Truth is a divine attribute and the foundation of every virtue. To be good and true is the first lesson we are taught in Masonry. On this theme we contemplate, and by its dictates endeavor to regulate our conduct. Hence, while influenced by this principle, hypocrisy and deceit are unknown among Masons; sincerity and plain dealing distinguish them; and with heart and tongue we join in promoting each other’s welfare and rejoicing in each other’s prosperity.
Twenty-Four Inch Gauge
The Apprentice Degree tells us that, [t]he twenty-four-inch gauge is an instrument made use of by operative masons to measure and lay out their work; but we, as Free and Accepted Masons, are taught to make use of it for the more noble and glorious purpose of dividing our time. It being divided into twenty-four equal parts, is emblematical of the twenty-four hours of the day which we are taught to divide the twenty-four inch gauge into three parts, whereby we find a portion for the service of God and the relief of a distressed worthy brother, a portion for our usual avocations, and a portion for refreshment and sleep.
In it’s essence, the twenty-four inch gauge is a symbol of time well employed.
Volume of the Sacred Law
From The Builder journal of 1920:
“As the Trestle Board is for the Master to lay lines and draw designs on the better to enable the brethren to carry on the intended structure with regularity and propriety so the Volume of the Sacred Law may justly be deemed the spiritual trestle board of the Great Architect of the Universe in which are laid down such divine laws and mortal precepts that were we conversant therewith and adherent thereto they would bring us to an ethereal mansion not built with hands but one eternal in the heavens.”
The Volume of the Sacred Law is considered one of the landmarks of Freemasonry and Mackey defines it as “an indispensable part of the furniture of every Lodge. I say advisedly, a Book of the Law, because it is not absolutely required that everywhere the Old and New Testaments shall be used.”
He goes on to say that, “The “Book of the Law” is that volume which, by the religion of the country, is believed to contain the revealed will of the Grand Architect of the universe. Hence, in all Lodges in Christian countries, the Book of the Law is composed of the Old and New Testaments; in a country where Judaism was the prevailing faith, the Old Testament alone would be sufficient; and in Mohammedan countries, and among Mohammedan Masons the Koran might be substituted. Masonry does not attempt to interfere with the peculiar religious faith of its disciples, except so far as relates to the belief in the existence of God, and what necessarily results from that belief.” The Book of the Law is to the speculative Mason his spiritual Trestle- board; without this he cannot labor; whatever he believes to be the revealed will of the Grand Architect constitutes for him this spiritual Trestleboard, and must ever be before him in his hours of speculative labor, to be the rule and guide of his conduct The Landmark, therefore, requires that a Book of the Law, a religious code of some kind, purporting to be an exemplar of the revealed will of God, shall form in essential part of the furniture of every Lodge.”
In essence, one could interpret the idea of the Book of Law, as an amalgam of all sacred texts (in so far as all faiths are represented) or, as in some iterations of Freemasonry, as a blank book that is emblematic of all faiths including non-traditional acknowledgements of agnostics, hermetic, pagan or atheists.
The tradition respecting the payment of the workmen’s wages at the building of Solomon’s Temple, may or may not he accurate. Indeed, the probability is, that the tradition has been fabricated in a subsequent age, without the existence of any documents to attest its authenticity.
Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, defines this phrase as:
A term used in the legend of the Third Degree to denote the person met near the port of Joppa by certain persons sent out on a search by King Solomon. The part of the legend which introduces the Wayfaring Man, and his interview with the Fellow Crafts, was probably introduced into the American system by Webb, or found by him in the older ceremonies practiced in the United States. It is not in the old English instructions of the eighteenth century, nor is the circumstance detailed in the present English lecture. A wayfaring man is defined by Phillips as “one accustomed to travel on the road.” The expression is becoming obsolete in ordinary language, but it is preserved in Scripture, “And when he had lifted up his eyes, he saw a wayfaring man in the street of the city: and the old man said, Whither goest thou? and whence comest thou?” (Judges 19:17 KJV) and in Freemasonry, both of which still retain many words long since disused elsewhere.
The term wayfaring man can at times be a means to identify another mason in a public setting.
Whence Came You?
Oliver Day Street answers this enigmatic question from February, 1917, issue of The Builder magazine, saying:
Daily this question is asked by Masons without the slightest thought as to its real meaning.
It is fitting that the answer we make to it in the lodge is well nigh unintelligible, for it is about as intelligible as any ever given it or as probably ever will be given it.
Who can answer the question “Whence came you?”
Who has ever answered it? Who will ever answer it?
Equally baffling and profound is that companion question, familiar in some jurisdictions, “Whither art thou bound?”
Equally an enigma is the answer we give it. Simple as these questions appear, they search every nook and cranny and sound every depth of every philosophy, every mythology, every theology, and every religion that has ever been propounded anywhere by anybody at any time to explain human life.
The literal answer to this question can be found in the Master Mason degree, but the philosophical answer to this question rests in the hearts and minds of all who have undergone the degrees of Freemasonry.
Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, defines the working tools this way:
In each of the Degrees of Freemasonry, certain implements of the Operative Art are consecrated to the Speculative Science, and adopted to teach as symbols lessons of morality. With these the Speculative Freemason is taught to erect his spiritual Temple, as his Operative predecessors with the same implements so constructed their material Temples. Thus they are known as Working Tools of the Degree. They vary but very slightly in the various Rites, but the same symbolism is preserved. The principal Working-Tools of the Operative Art that have been adopted as symbols in the Speculative Science, confined, however, to Ancient Craft Masonry, and not used in the higher Degrees, are the Twenty-four-inch Gage, Common Gavel, Square, Level, Plumb, Skirret, Compasses, Pencil, Trowel, Mallet, Pickax, Crow, and Shovel.