COMMON MASONIC SYMBOLS
COMMITTEE ON MASONIC EDUCATION
W.B. Henry Gamble 1984
Acacia - Symbol of immortality, and of faith; since without faith immortality is not real to anyone. Like evergreens in this country, acacia is a hardy tree. It is called shittah wood in the Old Testament. The Ancient Jews planted it on graves as a symbol of eternal life to mark the graves of the dead that footsteps would profane them not. Its hardiness and vibrant green make it an ideal symbol, and in spring the tree abounds with a profusion of bright yellow blossoms.
All Seeing Eye - Symbol of Deity, and by analogy, of His powers most important to man; love, justice and mercy. This symbol of the Supreme Being dates back to Ancient Egypt and India, long before Old Testament times. It is the Symbol of the watchfulness and sleeplessness of the Grand Architect of the Universe. (The eye shown on the dollar bill of the United States, while symbolizing God, was not designed nor inspired by Masons).
Altar - Symbol of Worship; of Faith; of the Sanctum Sanctorum or Holy of Holies in King Solomon's Temple. It is the central focal point in the Lodge Room and supports the Three Great Lights.
Apron - Symbol of honorable labor. The material of a Masonic Apron, the lambskin, is a symbol of innocence, as the lamb has always been down through the Ages. Do not confuse "innocence" with "ignorant". Innocence denotes purity of motive, action, and habit. Ignorance denotes an uninformed person.
Architecture - Symbol of the foundation of Freemasonry. Operative Masons were engaged principally in the erection of buildings which became testimonials to their skills - cathedrals, churches, monasteries, castles, great public halls, etc. etc. In as much as these structures required a deep knowledge in many arts. Architecture survives in speculative Masonry as a symbol for knowledge and skill in all important undertakings. The whole structure of our Ritual is based and built on taking those skills necessary to erect the edifices, and using them "for the more noble and glorious" purpose' of teaching us some moral principle or philosophy, some important aspect of character building. While Architecture taught one Ancient Brethren to build "documents in stone". Masonry teaches us to use the builder's tools to make ourselves into "living stones" for that "house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens".
Ashlar - The rough Ashlar is the symbol of an untutored or ignorant man; the perfect Ashlar, squared and smooth is the symbol of enlighten manhood.
Beasts of the Field and Birds of the Air - Symbols of destruction. In the Middle Ages, superstition demanded that a man's body be buried while intact and perfect if the soul was to go to Heaven. If the body was defiled or destroyed by marauding wild animals or birds of prey, the soul was prevented from entering Heaven, hence the mortal remains of a criminal or despicable person were left for the wild creatures to discover and prey upon thereby preventing that soul from entering Heaven.
Beehive - A symbol of industry and cooperation, of social obligation, reciprocal love, respect and friendship.
Bible - Volume of the sacred Law. It is the Symbol of Freemasonry's faith in the Grand Architect of the Universe. In nations which are predominantly Christian, it is the Holy Bible, opened to the Old Testament of the Jews. In land where the faith is predominantly a religion other than Christianity the Holy Book of the common faith is used. It may well be that several holy books may be on the Altar.
Boaz and Jachin - Symbols of strength and establishment, by implication of power and control. Power without control is anarchy. Control without power is futility. The two great pillars of strength and establishment suggest that a grown man must have a healthy balance of both for the completion of a successful life. ...to "establish His Kingdom in strength" within our live
Book of Constitution, Guarded by the Tyler's Sword - Ritualistically, the symbol of silence and circumspection, and of guarding against intrusion.
Broken Column - Symbol of an untimely death. It goes back to ancient Egypt, and is almost universally used to denote sudden and untimely passing.
Cable Tow - Ritualistically, a symbol of a method of controlling a person who is not bound to the Fraternity. The cable tow is removed when the person binds himself to our Fraternity by pledging to embrace our values and to incorporate them into his daily living.
Cardinal Virtues - Temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice. Temperance not only in the usual definitions but also caution in action, speech, thought, feeling, judgment, life and living. Fortitude not only in physical strength and bravery, but in moral courage also. Prudence not only in the determination of "what's good for me," but also in the use of common sense, reason, logic in day to day affairs. Justice not only in the traditional civic concept but also with the application of that value without which true justice cannot exist, mercy.
Circumambulation - Walking around a central point. In Lodge it is the Altar. We always walk clockwise, from the East to the West by way of the South, following the path of the sun. Circumambulation one of the many concealed symbols of the Great Architect of the Universe.
Coffin - Symbol of death and of Resurrection. In ancient times it was believed a man could not be resurrected from the dead until he was dead and his remains properly cared for. Hence, the coffin is just as much a symbol of Resurrection as it is of death, for it denotes the proper care of the remains of a deceased soul.
Compasses - (Always plural - as in a pair of Compasses) Symbol of restraint. One of the principle tenets of the Order - to "circumscribe and keep us within due bounds", or to be used by a Brother to establish his own outer limits o£ behavior and action and to keep him within these limits. One of the three Great Lights of Masonry.
Cornerstone - Symbol of beginning. Ancient architects started to build in the comer which was in the North and East. Symbolically an Entered Apprentice is beginning to build his life into a "perfect temple" stands in the Northeast corner of the Lodge, facing east as the youngest member of the Craft. He is at a point halfway between the darkness of the North and the full light of the East, starting on his journey eastward toward greater knowledge.
Due Guard - A symbol of obligation a reminder by him who uses it and to all who see him use it he remembers his promise.
East - Symbol of Light and Knowledge. The sun rises in the East and puts darkness to flight. Masonically, the Worshipful Master sits in the East of His Lodge; the Grand Master sits in the East of the Grand Lodge, and from them proceeds "light" or "knowledge". Brethren "approach the East" in search of light; meaning they look to the Worshipful Master or Most Worshipful Grand Master for knowledge and truth.
Entered Apprentice Degree - Masonically, a symbol of youth, of apprenticeship to the Craft.
Fellowship, the Five Points of - Symbol of building; of completion. Ancient builders laid out a structure with square comers from a center, or five points. Masonically, the essentials of brotherhood encompassing the five outer extremities or points of man, the two arms. Two legs and head.
Five Senses - Our ritual purposely understates these senses; hearing seeing, feeling, smelling, and tasting. We say little in words, but much in intent to explain the importance of these senses, since it is only by the rational application of them we obtain knowledge. A man born deaf, blind, with no sense of feel or smell or taste can learn nothing. The proper application of one five senses together with "a proper application of our rational powers" we differentiate man from the rest of Creation, through the manifestation of love, charity, philosophy, kindness, mercy, philanthropy, etc.
47th Problem of Euclid - Symbol of Geometry and exact science. It was known to ancient Mathematicians before Pythagoras' time and is the basis for all formulae to determine an unknown value from two known values.
G, the Letter - Symbol of Geometry, of the Deity.
Gage, the 24 inch - Symbol of time as wealth, as an asset. Also, use as a symbol of the short span of human life in the overall Universe
Gavel, Common - Symbol of a means of perfecting - such as making a rough Ashlar into a Perfect Ashlar.
Geometry - The symbol of mathematics; the symbol of the moral significance of divine truth.
Globes - Symbols of the universality of Masonry. This is a comparatively modem symbol, for in the time of King Solomon it was generally believed the earth was flat.
Gloves - Like the apron, a symbol of innocence; of fidelity. Also, a symbol of cleanliness and purity.
Grand Architect or Great Architect or Great or Grand Artificer of the Universe - The Deity - a non-sectarian term so that it embraces all major organized religions.
Great Lights, Three - The volume of the Sacred Law and the Square and the Compasses.
Hiram Abiff Legend Of - Symbol of immortality and resurrection contained within an allegory (or story within a story)
Hoodwink - Symbol of secrecy, of darkness, of lack of knowledge.
Hourglass and Scythe - Comparatively modem symbols of life and time. While they are young in Masonic, tradition, the symbols themselves are ancient and are found in the recorded histories of ancient Egypt.
Jewels, Officers - Square for the Master; Level for the S.W.; Plumb for the J.S.; Sun for S.D.; Moon for the J.D.; Crossed Keys for the Treasurer; Crossed quills or pens for the Secretary; Crossed Batons for the Marshall; Cornucopia for the Stewards; Open Bible for the Chaplain; Lyre for the Lodge Organist; Scroll and Pen for the Historian; and Sword for the Tyler.
Just and Upright - Complete, perfect; refers to character rather than posture.
Lamb and Lambskin - Symbol of innocence. See "Apron".
Lesser Lights - Symbols of the sun, moon and Master of the Lodge, in the form of a triangle which is a symbol of Deity.
Level - Symbol of equality. "Equality" does not mean wealth or poverty, social distinction, civic responsibility, service to mankind. It refers to manhood and the internal, not the external qualifications "of a human being; the dignity and worth of the human would without regard to worldly distinctions." Symbol of the Senior Warden.
Light - A symbol of knowledge, both spiritual worldly, just as darkness is a symbol of ignorance or the absence of instruction.
Lily-Work - Symbol of peace; originating in Ancient Egypt.
Lion of the Tribe of Judah - Symbol of the Messiah, a nonsectarian term. The lion has long been regarded as a symbol of strength and Resurrection. In Ancient Egypt, a lion was believed to have raised Osiris from the dead level to living perpendicular by a grip of his paw; in King Solomon's era, "Lion of the Tribe of Judah" was one of King Solomon's own titles; in the Christian era it symbolizes the Christ.
Lion's Paw - Symbol of the Mystic Tie; the bond between Masons; that strength comes from Unity.
Lost Word - Symbol of knowledge of God, immortality and the hidden secret of nature. We read in the Book of St. John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." The Sublime Degree of a Master Mason teaches that in another life it may be found.
Master's Wages - A symbolic phrase meaning the rewards which come to a Master Mason who leams what he professes - and practices what he learns. The rewards of love, friendship, respect, opportunity, happy labor, wholesome associations, etc., are the wages of a Master Mason who earns them - hence the descriptive phrase, "pay the craft their wages if aught be due."
Network - Symbol of unity and strength by multiplication of parts.
North - Symbol of darkness; lack of instruction; of ignorance.
Oblong Square - A rectangle - also a symbol of the form of a lodge.
Plumb and Plumb Line - Symbol of uprightness in life. Symbol of the Junior Warden. In the Book of Amos, the Lord promises to "set a Plumb Line in the midst of my people Israel." This is a reference to placing a moral and upright person in the midst of the throng to set an example for behavior and standards by which a man may judge his own actions.
Pomegranate - Symbol of Plenty - "the exuberance of its seeds denotes Plenty."
Pot of Incense - Emblem of a pure heart; also a symbol of prayer and worship. A comparatively modem symbol.
Ritual, Masonic - Certain truths presented in such a way as to teach facts and also impressing moral lessons on the mind and spirit. Symbolically, a means of initiating the soul.
Sts. John - The Holy Saints John - The patron Saints of Masonry, Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist.
Maul - Symbol of Death.
Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences - Ancient Symbols of education, of learning, of knowledge.
Sharp instrument - Symbol of Conscience.
Square - Symbol of rectitude of life and conduct; of morality; truthfulness of honesty. Symbol of the Master. One of the three Great Lights of Masonry.
Sword - Symbol of justice; the Tyier's sword is a symbol of watchful guardianship.
Three Steps on the Master's Carpet - Youth, manhood, old age. Also, the three degrees of Masonry.
Token - Symbol of a posture of mutual brotherhood; symbol of Masonic covenant.
Trestle Board - Symbol of Moral Law; that upon which the Master draws his plans, and by analogy a Master Mason draws designs for his future growth in character and spiritual growth.
Triangle - Masonically, the symbol of Deity. This simple and closed geometric symbol, not having a beginning or end, which can be formed with straight lines. This symbol and variations of it are as old as man's recorded history - perhaps older.
Trowel - Symbol of Master Mason; symbol of a generous heart, which alone can "spread the cement of Brotherly love and affection." The trowel without mortar or cement is useless. By the same analogy the symbolic trowel has no value unless it is used to spread the symbolic cement.
Truth - One of the three principle tenets; brotherly love, relief and truth.
Wages of Fellowcraft - Corn, wine and oil, symbolizing spiritual, not material realms. The corn represents plenty, wine of refreshment, oil of joy. Together they symbolize the components of a good life spiritually and mentally.
Wheat, Sheaf of or Ear of Corn - Symbol of plenty and security. Plenty because of the richness of a good harvest, security because it was displayed when the men of Gilead hung it by the banks of the Jordan River after the Ephramites were defeated, being detected by their inability to pronounce the word, Sh ___eth.
Winding Stairs - Symbol of growth in mental and spiritual life; of learning, studying, and expanding horizons. Also, the symbol of Masonic Character; since a straight stair contains no secrets or mysteries, and one knows not what he faces at the next turn of the winding stairs, it symbolizes a Master Mason's courage facing life.