Dear Carl, 

Brothers and Nobles 

This is a little long but read some and gain a little info on The Symbols of Freemasonry
I got this from Nigel Gallimore
David Triplett 



Freemasonry is essentially a science of symbolism. The whole teaching of Freemasonry is said to be symbolic. The three degrees initiate one into the fraternity, convey how to improve oneself in Masonry, and communicate the central legend of the Craft. The symbols, signs, gestures, and legends of Freemasonry are all crafted into ritual dramas whose apparent aim is to instruct the candidate about various spiritual themes. The underlying symbols of Freemasonry are the Volume of Sacred Law, Square and Compasses. They remind a Freemason of human ethical duties, solidarity with his fellowmen and relationship with eternal values. Freemasonry does not impose any religious symbols - they are completely up to the creed of each separate brother.  


It was only in 1717 when Modern English Freemasonry was finally organized under the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster, that the philosophical symbolism was officially recognized and with it the moral significance of the tools and methods used in the building trade. Implements such as the square stood for righteousness, justice and virtue and the compasses circumscribed moral behavior and served as a measurement for harnessing the passions: "keep within the compass and you will be sure to avoid many dangers which others endure." The level symbolized equality, the plumb rule and uprightness, the trowel for "spreading the cement of brotherly love." The unhewn stone, or rough ashlar, that is part of the furniture of every Masonic lodge, is said to represent "man in his infant or primitive state, rough and unpolished", the polished stone or perfect ashlar represented man "in the decline of years, after a regular well spent life in acts of piety and virtue."


It would be difficult to name another organization in which symbolism plays such a prominent role as it does in Freemasonry, in which a fundamental requirement is 'that every Freemason should know the meaning of the ritual that is practised in his lodge.' Originally, long before the formation of the first Grand Lodge in 1717, the ritual was handed down by word of mouth. In the ritual, one of the key things which happens is that there are transformations taking place, objects, such as working tools are each transformed into symbols. There are endless levels of meaning in our symbols both alone and when seen in conjunction with each other and every Freemason is allowed, and encouraged to read that symbolism in his own way. Symbols are used in Masonry to illustrate spiritual truths. The working tools of a Freemason are an excellent example of symbolism, for although they can be put into practical use they are also in the lodge to illustrate moral virtues. 

"A candidate proposing to enter Freemasonry has seldom formed any definite idea of the nature of what he is engaging in. Even after his admission he usually remains quite at a loss to explain satisfactorily what Masonry is and for what purpose his Order exists. He finds, indeed, that it is "a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols," but that explanation, whilst true, is but partial and does not carry him very far. For many members of the Craft to be a Mason implies merely connection with a body which seems to be something combining the natures of a club and a benefit society. We meet in our Lodges regularly we perform our ceremonial work and repeat catechetical instruction-lectures night after night with a less or greater degree of intelligence and verbal perfection, and there our work ends, though the ability to perform this work creditably were the be-all and the end-all of Masonic work: Seldom or never do we employ our Lodge meeting for that purpose for which, quite as much as for ceremonial purposes, they were intended, for "expatiating on the mysteries of the Craft," and perhaps our neglect to do so is because we have ourselves imperfectly realized what those mysteries are into which our Order was primarily formed to introduce us. Yet, there exists a large number of brethren who would willingly repair this obvious deficiency, brethren to whose natures Masonry, even in the more limited aspect of it, makes a profound appeal and who feel their membership of the Craft to be privilege which has brought them into the presence of something greater than they know, and that enshrines a purpose and that could unfold a message deeper than they at present realize." -  (Excerpt from The Meaning of Masonry published in 1920 and authored by Bro. W. L. Wilmshurst  (1867-1939) PM of England).  


There are literally hundreds of symbols and emblems used in Masonry to impart wise and serious truths. The study of Masonic symbols is a worthwhile endeavor and an extensive field of Masonic education. The Freemason has no way of reaching any of the esoteric teachings of the Order except through the medium of allegory or a symbol. Many of these Masonic symbols originate from the masonry trade and the Christian Bible. In Masonry, the symbols need not be consistent, but they can stand for different things. The twenty-four-inch gauge can represent the twenty-four-hour day, and also accuracy. The square stands for morality, but also for the Worshipful Master. Freemasons use all kinds of symbols to represent the practices and beliefs of the order:

  • Scythe and hourglass: The scythe is to remind Masons of the ever-present danger of death that awaits us all. Like the scythe, the hourglass is an emblem of mortality.
  • The Pythagorean theorem: The most useful mathematical equation for use in the building trade, the Pythagorean theorem was one of the biggest secrets of the early stonemasons.
  • Jacob's ladder: In the book of Genesis, Jacob dreamed that he saw a ladder stretching from Earth to heaven, and angels climbed up and down it. In Masonry, the ladder is described as having three main rungs, representing faith, hope, and charity. Other rungs include temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice.
  • Anchor and ark: In the lectures of Masonry, the anchor and the ark are combined as symbols of a well-spent life. The anchor is a symbol of hope, and the ark (like Noah's boat) is an emblem of faith.
  • Sun, eye, moon, and stars: These images are combined to describe God, whom the sun, the moon, and the stars obey. The sun and moon are also to remind the officers of the lodge to govern the lodge with regularity.
  • Lamb and lambskin apron: Moreso than any other other symbol, the lambskin apron is the universal badge of a Mason. Aprons, girdles, or sashes have appeared throughout history as symbols of honor, piety, or achievement.
  • Slipper: This is a symbol relating to the way candidates are prepared for the degrees. The Masonic explanation comes from a Hebrew custom of removing one's shoe and giving it to a neighbor to seal an agreement, as a promise of honor and sincerity.
  • Point within a circle and parallel lines: This tiny symbol is one of the most confounding images in Freemasonry - no one really knows what it means. It's a circle, with a point in the middle. On top of the circle is a Bible or Volume of Sacred Law. On either side of the circle are two parallel lines.
  • Pot of incense: Incense is not typically burned in a Masonic lodge, but the symbol of a pot of incense is used as an allegory for a pure heart (the pot or censer) and the prayers that arise from it to heaven, symbolized by the clouds of rising smoke.
  • Beehive: Bees have long been a symbol of hard work and teamwork. To the Mason, the beehive is especially fascinating, because the honeycomb is a perfect geometric structure.
  • Plumb: A device with a string and a weight at the bottom (called a plumb bob) to help a workman determine if a vertical wall or surface is level. The plumb line always points to both the center of the Earth and to the heavens. It's a symbol of justice, rectitude, uprightness, equity, and truth.
  • Level: A building tool similar to the plumb, the level measures the levelness of horizontal surfaces. It reminds Masons that they're all living their lives upon the level of time.
    • The letter G: This letter represents the initial of God, or the Grand Architect of the Universe, as well as geometry, the basis of Freemasonry's origins. Uniting the concept of God with geometry is a way of connecting the spiritual world to the physical world.
    • Five-pointed star: The five-pointed star is another emblem representative of God.
    • Naked heart and the sword: The heart has a sword pointing to it, while the symbols of God look down from above. The heart and the sword symbolize justice.
    • Tyler's sword and the Book of Constitutions: The Book of Constitutions is the code of Masonic laws that govern the operation of lodges. The Tyler's sword across it is a caution to protect the institution of Freemasonry by guarding against unworthy thoughts, deeds, and words that may bring the fraternity into bad repute.
    • Trowel: The trowel is an instrument that's used to spread cement or mortar, which binds bricks together. When joined together by the ceremonies and practices of Masonry, the individuals will work together to help each other and society as a whole.
    • Handshake: A symbol of two hands shaking is representative of the grip or token of a Freemason, the way members may recognize each other in silence.
    • Rough and perfect (or smooth) ashlars (quarry stones): The rough ashlar represents man in his rough, rude, and imperfect state. Masons are taught that by education, culture, discipline, and faith, they can become a more perfect person, like the perfect ashlar.
    • Pillars: In the course of the Fellow Craft degree, the candidate passes between the two pillars (Jachin and Boaz) on his symbolic way into the Middle Chamber of Solomon's Temple. Individually, they represent strength and establishment.
      • The coffin, shovel, setting maul, and sprig of acacia: The symbols of the grave remind Masons that everyone shall eventually die and turn to dust. The hearty acacia plant, which thrives in the Holy Land, can often seem to spring back to life from little more than a dead branch, and reminds us of the hope for immortality that unites all religions.
      • 24-inch gauge and the common gavel: The 24-inch gauge is representative of the 24 hours of the day. The gavel is to remind Masons to endeavor to remove the rough edges from their own character, to become more like the perfect ashlar.                  

Even in this abridged form they are absolutely necessary as preliminary to any true understanding of the symbolism of Freemasonry. Freemasonry is a science - a philosophy - a system of doctrines which is taught, in a manner peculiar to itself, using allegories and symbols. Learning the allegorical meanings of Freemasonry's many symbols is not difficult, but it can be easy to confuse the difference between a symbol and an emblem. A symbol compares one thing with another using a graphical, visual object as a memory aid. A symbol has both a visual "face value" and a secondary more complex meaning which has been ascribed to it. In other words, a symbol brings to mind a "story" behind it. An emblem is an insignia, crest, patch,...a trademark or logo. It is a special design or visual object representing a quality, type or group. The Masonic square and compasses emblem represents Freemasonry as a group.


The easiest way to remember the difference between Masonic symbols and Masonic emblems in Freemasonry is that Masonic emblems are most often used as a representation or logo for a group.  It represents the group as a whole. Therefore, if you have trouble remembering the difference between an emblem and a symbol, the easiest way this is to remember that (for the most part), emblems are logos. 


Freemasonry permits each individual to interpret and apply the lessons of the Craft as he sees best. One member places his interpretation upon a certain symbol or attribute of Freemasonry; another may take an entirely different view, and will cite evidence with which a third may be at entire variance; yet these three men can gather about our alters and in our Lodge together in perfect amity.


Initiation alone never did nor ever can make a man a Mason it only lays the foundation. The true Mason is made when he studies, interprets and implements the meaning of the symbols in his daily life. Freemasonry is at its core an initiatory experience. Its primary purpose is to provide initiation through ritual then to give mentoring to all Master Masons. Indeed, mentoring is an essential component to becoming a fully realized Mason. Sadly, too many lodges fail to appreciate their true role in providing initiation and far more do not recognize their obligation to assist brothers in their continuing journey.


Through the three degrees of the Craft the candidate has been exposed to our teachings, observed our symbols, taken upon himself solemn obligations, laid to rest his former profane self and set upon a new, more spiritual life. He emerges after the Third Degree with the knowledge and experience he needs but he is not as yet a fully developed Master Mason. That is a personal journey to which he alone must commit. But he must not be abandoned and left to his own devices. Freemasonry remains dedicated to this great tradition of initiation and mentoring. It offers initiation to all good men and provides the brotherhood, rich literary tradition and educational resources necessary for the new Master Mason to, as we say, improve himself in Masonry. We are heirs to an ancient tradition and should justifiably be proud of our heritage.


One of the functions of Freemasonry is "the erection of our spiritual temple." Indeed, we are told in one part of the ceremonies, "From the foundation laid this evening, may you raise a superstructure perfect in its parts and honorable to the builder." The brotherhood is explicitly intended to be a group of men of high ideals and moral purpose, who believe in the omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence of a Supreme Being, who have shared certain deeply moving experiences, and who are striving, each in his own way, to improve himself, and to make the world a better place in which to live. Because of these common beliefs and experiences, Freemasonry is in effect an affinity group, a group of men who enjoy each other's company. Interpret the symbols how you wish, by all means. But, unless the interpretation is confirmed in the ritual, be very careful about what you tell others. Also do not let the Anti-Masons shove a false interpretation down your throat.   


As our numbers continue to fall, as lodges close or merge, as attendance suffers in too many lodges too often, there is a tendency to bemoan our future. But the need for initiation will continue in men; it is a natural part of us. So long as Freemasonry continues to offer meaningful initiation and then surrounds the new brother with an encouraging society of brothers, we are not in peril. But we must preserve and improve our ritual and education to provide the means for the new Master Mason to continue his journey into light. 



David Triplett 

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David C. Triplett, Member of Masonic Education Committee
email: david.triplett93@gmail.com