What is Freemasonry?
A peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols.
This is the answer a candidate must give in his initiation. Symbols illustrate, but cover the real meaning. Symbols are there for more complex and sometimes sinister reasons. The relationship of symbol to meaning is most often a typical association of a natural type, hence, someone waving a mug in your direction is either asking you if you would like a drink or suggesting you go and make one.
Symbols are there to represent the visible side of the invisible, a type of the thing unseen, it may remind us of a thing not to be forgotten, a thing of consequence, of danger; they are there often for our own good, as for instance, warning signs. We use symbols all the time and often we don’t realise it. Symbols have been called a universal language but this is stretching things too far; a Zulu would have no understanding of an hourglass as a symbol for example. Some symbols however, are very widely known, many peoples understand Winston Churchill’s V-sign and the reverse V-sign is also widely known as an insult.
Most symbols are a local language, in other words, it will mean something to the particular group in question, they will recognise the symbolism and understand its meaning, at least supposedly! Masonic symbolism is local in its understanding, but even for masons it takes research to understand what it is they represent. The symbols used in masonry are in the main recognisable, but not all, and some have different interpretations the higher you go. The one thing we can say with certainty, is that all symbols in masonry have some meaning, the question is, what?
Compass & Square
This is the best known of masonic symbols, it is found on books, buildings, clothes and anywhere that is Masonic owned. It is the most widely used symbol to indicate the presence of masons. Bernard E. Jones, a prominent mason, said of the square and compass, ‘it is the most significant symbol in masonry.’ The symbol is relatively new, according to Masonic historian Henry Wilson Coil, though Jones reckons it was the Chinese who first used it. Whoever used it first is of no real consequence, since it so certainly belongs to masonry now. They are seen as two thirds of the three great lights, the third being the Volume of the Sacred Law, often a Bible. Each light has a specific meaning;
Bible / sacred writings = Divinity.
Compass = Spirit.
Square = Psyche.
The great lights are presented in different configurations according to the degree, and as such describe the extent to which the psyche is influenced by spirit.
This symbol has prompted many interpretations, usually with a common thread of duality. The compass has been seen as male, the square, female, very typical of dualistic symbolism. Others have seen the square as standing for honesty, truth and fair dealing, whilst the compass means undeviating truth and loyalty. Which of these is true? The meaning of this symbol is kept from masons of the craft degrees and is hardly revealed anywhere else. In his book, Royal Arch – its hidden meaning, George Steinmetz has a chapter called, “Occult Symbology”, a clear indication of where the symbol came from, and on page 122 it says,
Royal Arch will explain a rational meaning for the square & compass, but not its deeper meaning.
An evangelical Christian also seeking to be a mason could not with any real integrity agree to such compromise of trust and supposed brotherhood, why is the real meaning not revealed?
Freemasonry is meant to revolve around a symbolical building of King Solomon’s Temple and therefore it should not surprise us to find architectural symbolism in the lodge. The most obvious of these is the pillars. There are three pillars, named wisdom, strength and beauty. Wisdom constructs the building. Strength supports the building. Beauty adorns the building. These could be called the outer pillars, those unseen on the outside of a building. They do a job, but it’s all show. Masonry likes to show its outside pillars, but what of the pillars inside?
There are two pillars inside the lodge, they have names, Boaz & Jachin, which are incidentally the ‘words’ for the first two degrees, Boaz in the first, Jachin, second. Boaz on the left is the senior and strength, Jachin is the junior and to establish. Candidates will have to pass between them on admission; this some have seen as entering another world, even eternity. J.C. Ball saw them as a sign of deity; others see the left hand pillar as creation and the right pillar as salvation.
There seems again to be some confusion as to the real meaning of these symbols and once again dualism rears its head. The two pillars are seen as light & dark, strength & beauty, sun & moon, classic duality. The astrological sign, Gemini has been represented as two pillars and astrology does have a prominent place in freemasonry; one being the twelve signs of zodiac evenly spread across the four corners of Grand Temple. The Egyptian view is of twin phallic symbols and Egyptian ideas take an important role in masonry as well. So, more confusion for the mason if he searches for meaning to this symbol.
The symbol we will now look at is perhaps the most controversial, because of its use in the occult. The question is, are they the same? It is a symbol which is well known within the occult and the Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects, says, the pentagram is, ‘the most widely revered of all esoteric symbols.’ It is a weapon of power in magic and is also used in witchcraft. Why would such a symbol be used in masonry? This symbol is an important one in freemasonry and the views of its meaning are shrouded by the interpreters, but we can decipher some of the meanings through their own writings. There is a pentagram on the pavement to the entrance of Grand Lodge, which is an indication of its importance.
One of the more astounding views of the pentagram comes from the Masonic historian, Henry Coil, he says,
‘Pentalpha is said to have a great many symbolic and mystical meanings, but it has no application to freemasonry, except possibly in some higher degrees.’
The reasons for any astonishment, is because, if any should know its meaning in the higher degrees it is a thirty-third degree mason like Coil! Why does he not share its meaning?
Coil’s encyclopaedia is a well-recommended source of information for masons, and there are many things in it that ought to be questioned and answered by masons. One of which, is the reference to Eliphas Levi, an occultist of the first order. The reference to him is of affirmation, so it could be therefore assumed that his word is an authority on masonry. He was also an enormous influence on another famous mason, Albert Pike. Pike considered the pentagram to have all kinds of esoteric meaning, including the pentagon of the Kabbalists. Levi however, saw it as much more sinister, to him it was the, ‘…goat of lust attacking heaven with its horns.’
There are those that say that the meaning depends on whether or not it has two points up or down. Most occult references to this symbol have the two points up, representing the goat of mendes, which is the same as Levi’s goat of lust. If the same symbol, two points up, were found in masonry, wouldn’t that give us cause for concern? We would have to come to the conclusion that masonry was full of occultic meaning. The well-respected Masonic writer Bernard E. Jones says in agreement that the symbol with two points up represents the devil and black magic! Is the symbol used in this way? I’m afraid it is! On the cover of the freemason’s magazine, Masonic Square for March 1995 is an apron with this symbol upon it; the same magazine for June 1993 shows the Masonic inspired gravestone of William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) with this symbol. There are others.
If Jones is right, that it represents the devil, and who could argue with him, it must be a real cause for concern for the majority of men in masonry, I’m sure most would not have joined they had known it was that type of organisation.
Skull & Crossbones
This is one of the easiest of symbols to decipher, as Coil says, it is universally known as an emblem for death, poison or danger. Mackey agrees with this interpretation. The question is why would masonry have a symbol for death, poison and danger in the lodges? Is it dangerous to be a mason? Could you be poisoned? Or are you expected to be threatened with death if you betray the craft? Most references to Skull & Crossbones in Masonic literature do not make much use in the third degree, where it is shown on the tracing boards and presumably mentioned in the third degree lecture.
One interesting thing of note, to do with this symbol, is its use by the Templar degrees. Coil and Mackey take particular notice in their encyclopaedias. Coil says that it used by the Templar degrees of masonry but he does not know how or why it is used. Mackey is a bit more forthcoming, though not much; he reckons it is not used in Masonry except in the Templars (third degree?) where it is a symbol of mortality. Why would they want a symbol of mortality? The Templars were accused of worshipping a head/skull as an idol. This has been argued about for years, however Mackey writes in a definite way that Templars did use a skull but it was symbolic. Symbolic of what?
This symbol means the same wherever you go, death. Why have death as a symbol? The Bible says that the dead have no place with the living and therefore it represents something ungodly.
All Seeing Eye
This symbol is well known outside of masonry as well as inside, so we must be careful what we attribute to it. It is Jones again who helps us to see where it comes from. He says the alchemists introduced the all Seeing Eye into masonry.
The Egyptians used it to remind them of Osiris, and is therefore a very old symbol. In Egypt it was a reminder that the gods they believed in were all seeing and knowing. This is a remarkable resemblance to the meaning of the symbol in masonry. Jones admits the symbol does not come from Christianity and Coil says that the all Seeing Eye will reward masons according to their merits. In an attempt to make it acceptable to most Christians, a Bible reference is given, Proverbs 15:3 – ‘The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.’
First of all, the eyes of the Lord are plural not singular, God is not a Cyclops. Secondly, no one should use just one verse to try and justify a belief. Whatever masons may say, the description given concerning the god of the all Seeing Eye seems to be very different to the way the God of the Bible describes Himself. Evangelical Christians firmly believe that God does not reward according to merit, but according to our acceptance of Jesus as saviour; otherwise some would boast.
The triangle is another well-known symbol and not just in masonry, but it is a significant emblem in a large number of Masonic degrees. The Egyptians appear again at this point; they expressed the origin of all things by the triangle. The Ancient Egyptians hold more than a little interest for masons and there are a good many Egyptian influences on masonry.
Jones considered it meant trinity to most Christians and there is no problem with that, but that is no proof of meaning the same to the mason. The triangle in masonry usually has another emblem on the inside, such as an eye or a point with a circle around the triangle. These all have slightly different meanings, but all have deistic meanings. I found no reference to a triune God of the Bible mentioned by any Masonic writer, but that is no surprise as they do not believe in a monotheistic God. So then, the question is what god does the triangle represent?
This symbol is unknown by any of the lower degrees because it is only used by the thirtieth degree upwards. It has various forms depending on the level attained; for example, it has three bars across in the thirty-third degree, but only two in the degree below. The cross of Salem has been called, ‘Cross of Baphomet’, and this should make us want to ask the question, ‘Who or what is Baphomet?’ The answer will not be very reassuring for the mason. Baphomet is the name given to the ‘Goat of Mendes’ the satanic god, which the occultist Eliphas Levi portrayed in a well-known picture. This ‘goat’ is the same idol attributed to the Templars, so it therefore interesting to note that this symbol only comes into use in the Templars degrees.
I, personally asked the librarian at Grand Lodge, John Hamill, what it stood for, he gave the answer, ‘oh, nothing much’. This is of course an unacceptable answer. I then phoned Fred Smyth (Grand Lodge supplied the number) who had written the book, Brethren in Chivalry, a book about the Templar degrees, he said to me, ‘It is only reference to the Templars, nothing else.’ Another unacceptable answer, when you consider the level to which these two men have attained. When you consider the fact that all symbols represent something and this symbol is in a high degree, it does make one wonder what it is they are hiding?
The Letter G
The letter G is one of the more obvious symbols inside the lodge. Mackey in his encyclopaedia called it, ‘one of the most sacred symbols, a symbol of deity.’ The G is placed over the lodge master’s head in the east and it is meant to represent ‘God’ or ‘geometry’. This is where the argument rages within masonry, which one does it represent? The letter G did not ever represent God until the late Eighteenth century, though it was a feature of lodges earlier. Hutchinson in his book, Spirit of Masonry (pub. 1775) thought G was both God and geometry! Dr. William Wynn Westcott, a mason of renown and also probably a Kabbalist said that the interpretation of G as God was foolish. Harry Carr, perhaps the greatest of Masonic writers, saw G as geometry, as the foundation of all knowledge; he also recognised that G had come to mean God, Grand Geomatrician of the Universe. Perhaps the most significant comment on the letter G is from Mackey, he said, ‘It is to be regretted that the letter G, as a symbol, was ever admitted into Masonic system.’
Why would a staunch mason say such a thing? What could possibly be behind the letter G to make one mason regret its inclusion into the craft? To candidates coming into the lodge, in their first few visits, they may well be left with the impression that the master of the lodge is in fact representing God and therefore is to be obeyed at all times. The Bible says you cannot serve two masters, which surely means we need to choose either Masonry or Jesus?
The six pointed star, known to most people as either the Star of David or Star of Solomon. There is no bible reference to any such thing. The Zionist organisation adopted it as a symbol for flag of Israel in 1897. This is quite some time after its use in masonry.
The Masonic authors, as usual, cannot agree on its meaning, Gould said it was a sign of the Eternal Creator, whilst Mackey thought it was a talisman. It is Bernard Jones we must turn to if we want to find any substantial views on this particular symbol. He says it had a host of meanings, but definitely it came from Alchemy and is chiefly known in Royal Arch Masonry, but he then goes on to say nothing of its meaning. He does say though, that it is also used in astrology, occultism and magic, none of which is compatible with mainstream Christianity.
The other thing worth noting is the dualistic background to this symbol, it has been used to represent male and female, fire and water and in China it is a symbol of Yin Yang. To the Evangelical Christian who is also seeking to be a mason this surely makes alarm bells ring, because these interpretations of this symbol go against their understanding of the God of Scripture. If the mason says it doesn’t mean any of those things, he will have to prove it by showing exactly what the hexagram does stand for.
A well-known sight around the world is this symbol; many floors have this arrangement. For the mason however, it must mean something more significant, since all symbols have meaning. It is used on the temple floor and referred to as mosaic pavement. Again, we find that the meaning is shrouded in mystery as no one person can come up with definitive explanation. The outcome leaves us with the impression that it is again dualistic.
For example, Jones says it symbolises the chequered life of man, Coil says it represents a life made up of good and evil and the Masonic Record publication, Enquire Within, suggest it shows the joys and sorrows of life. W. Kirk McNulty sees it as completely dualistic, to him it is two sides of everything, black/white, active/passive, and easy/difficult, which together create the whole. To believe that everything is two sided and therefore, eventually even, is extremely naive. Some people clearly have an easier time of things than others and in our own lives we will see that things don’t always balance out as we might like them to.
Jesus made it quite clear to His disciples that life wasn’t always fair, but that God would judge according to what each has been given.
Symbols have been used by man since the dawn of time and no-one is suggesting that symbols in and of themselves are sinister, nor the people that use them, but it is different when the symbol in question is not explained or a reason for using it, given. Freemasonry says it is opening its door to any who want to see what goes on and they will have to answer some questions on the use of symbols in lodge, if they want to satisfy people.
Freemasons use symbolism more than most and it is interesting that they do not use any symbols that has not been used before; and as most of the symbols have been used for occult purposes, this must cause for concern. What are we to make of the many occultists that have influenced masonry? It would seem that they have much more influence than the ‘Christian’ element. What of the dualism? Even Masonic writers can see its there, this is considerably difficult for the true evangelical Christian, because of its roots in false religion.
Freemasons in general, probably have no idea that the symbols they use are rooted in pagan and occult backgrounds. To these I say, ‘Don’t just believe me, go and look for yourself and ask questions of those in the know and see if they satisfy you with good, clear, concise answers to some of the questions I have set out here.’ Masons are encouraged to search after the truth, so encourage them to seek after the truth, which the writer, for one, believes is found in Jesus Christ. May each of you who seek the truth, find it.