Between symbols and symbolism, there’s a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to Freemasonry.While going over every symbol and emblem you may come across would take quite a while, even just those in blue lodge, I did want to take some time to explain those that you may see on a regular basis. Most all of these are associated with appendant bodies (save the first one). Unfortunately, time dictates that I cannot cover every one, so I will go over each of the more common ones. A future post will cover symbols you will only find in blue lodge, as well as, perhaps, the symbols of the less common appendant bodies. While I cannot tell you all of the meanings behind every emblem, this can help you recognize the emblems associated with popular Masonic bodies. Please note: it is proper to say that all of these are emblems, that represent a specific group as a whole. Due to the nature of the English language however, I will be using the words emblem and symbol interchangeably.
The Square and Compass
Perhaps the most well know, most prevalent, and most easily recognized symbol of Freemasonry is the square and compass. This is the symbol of the Blue Lodge. The compass is on top, with the square below. Duncan’s Masonic Monitor from 1866 explains it thusly, “The square, to square our actions; The compass to circumscribe and keep us within bounds with all mankind.” The tools represent judgement and discernment, and more is given on these lessons within the degrees. You may find a square and compass with or without a G. In many English-speaking jurisdictions, especially within the United States, the G is there. It represents the Great Architect of the Universe, which is how Masons refer to G-d, as well as geometry, the science that Freemasonry is founded upon.
Both Scottish Rite and York Rite have different symbols associated with each degree. I will only be covering some of the more common ones, please know that there are many more out there.
is the symbol for the Lodge of Perfection, which includes the 4th-14th degrees of the Scottish Rite. If you’re not sure what the squiggly line has to do with anything, it may help to know that it is not English. This symbol is the Hebrew letter Yod, which is the first letter of the sacred name of the Supreme Being YHWH- one of the Hebrew names for G-d. Each of the four letters represent different tenses of the verb “to be”. HVH- to be, HYH- was, YHYH- will be. G-d always has been, and always will be, at the heart of Freemasonry.
Double Headed Eagle
This emblem, which belongs to the 32nd degree of the Scottish Rite, also known as Commandery, has long been a hot button topic for the nay sayers of Freeemasonry. In fact, the double-headed eagle has been used as a symbol for many centuries, by many different kings and countries. In Masonry, it serves as an obvious symbol of duality, that unites two opposites into one wholeness, religion and science, for example. It also teaches that one must look to both the past, as well as the future, in order to get a better understanding of the world around us. The 32 refers to its symbol for the 32nd degree (sometimes you will see it with a 33 for, you guessed it, the 33rd degree.) The phrase “Spes mea in Deo est” translates to, “My hope is in G-d.”
Moving from the Scottish Rite over to the York Rite, the triple tau is the emblem of the first four degrees, commonly referred to as the Capitular Degrees, or Royal Arch Masonry. It is exactly as it appears, three T’s joined at their base. It is said that it has three different meanings, which only seems appropriate. The first, is that the letters T and H (the two bottom tau make up the H), make reference to Hiram of Tyre and Hiram Abif, the designer of the Temple of Solomon. Secondly, it can signify Templum Hierosolym, another name for the Temple of Jerusalem, and may serve as a reminder that the wearer of the emblem acknowledges himself as a servant of G-d. The third significance, is from Christians in Greek or Roman influence, who used it as a symbol of the holy trinity.
The Sword and Trowel
The sword and trowel is the symbol of the Cryptic Masons, which encompasses the next three degrees of the York Rite. The circle, as seen in many of the other emblems, has no ending and no beginning, and can represent infinity or eternity. It may represent freedom, unity, completeness, and harmony. It can also be a reminder of constraints, to constrain our prejudices, our passions, and our interests from betraying us. The triangle, which has three points, can serve as many reminders: the past present and future; the three Magi,the three stages of life; the three Great Pillars, etc. This is the first time that the sword and the trowel are seen together within Masonry. The sword is an emblem of duality, and not only symbolizes security, but also light, purification, righteousness, spiritual transition, and from its double-edged it shows us the defensiveness and destructiveness. The trowel is a reminder of the Master Mason degree, where it is a major focus. The trowel is used to spread the cement of Brotherly Love that unites all of the stones (Brothers) into one common structure (the Fraternity).
The Seal of the Knights Templar
The Knights Templar make up the last few degrees of the York Rite, called orders. The interesting thing about this emblem, is that each part of it is the emblem of each specific degree within the order. The cross and crown represent the degree of the Knight of the Temple, also called the Order of the Temple. As the Order of the Knights Templar is a Christian order, the cross and crown makes sense, as it has been a symbol of Christianity for centuries. The black cross around it, called a Maltese Cross, is the symbol of the Degree of Knight of Malta, also known as the Order of Malta. The Maltese Cross became associated with the Knights when they were on the island of Malta, and appeared on the coins of the country in the 16th century. The crossed swords pointed downward are the symbol of the Degree of the Knight of St. Paul, also known as the Mediterranean Pass. The phrase “In hoc signo vinces” translates to “By this sign though shalt conquer”, which is a reference to the story of Constantine.
Often, only the cross and crown are used to signify the Knights Templar:
The simplifying of this symbol makes it easier to create an overarching symbol for York Rite (which Scottish Rite seems to be lacking):
I hope this has helped understand a bit more of the symbols you may see around your local Lodge, or even on cars on the freeway. I will be going over different auxiliary groups emblems in the future.
As always, let me know if you have any questions, and have a great week!