Demystifying Masonic Symbols
To more fully understand Masonic Symbols, it is necessary to learn a bit of the history behind them as well as the difference between a symbol and an emblem.
If you're pressed for time, you can go directly to
Freemason Symbols, however for a truer understanding of why Freemasons use
symbols, please continue reading this, first.
Many Freemason symbols teach moral lessons through
the use of allegory. (Allegory is when you liken one thing to another
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.
Some writers use these two words somewhat interchangeably and it is easy to see
WHAT IS A SYMBOL?
Symbols represent a more complex idea by use of the "face value" of a
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.
Masonic symbols usually have a secondary or higher religious or spiritual meaning ascribed to them.
The Masonic setting maul symbol has the face value of its basic use to an operative Mason
as that of a tool to set stones. To speculative Masons, it has a
secondary meaning which represents a more complex idea or concept such as the
manner in which Hiram Abif met his death.
WHAT IS AN EMBLEM?
Emblems represent a specific group, quality or type.
Emblems have a "face value" only.
Most of the time, you can remember the difference if you think: Emblem
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. It is their logo. It should also be noted
that the Masonic square and compasses logo is copyrighted.
The Eastern Star emblem, below, represents a group known as the Eastern Star
or the Order of the Eastern Star. It is their logo.
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
Other appendant bodies within Freemasonry have their own emblems, such as
Rainbow Girls, Job's Daughters, Scottish Rite, DeMolay, etc. These are their logos.
Therefore, if you always have trouble remembering the difference between an
emblem and a symbol, the easiest way to remember this is to just remember that (for the most part), emblems are logos.
If you would like to learn more about Freemason emblems, here is more information about Masonic Emblems .
While we don't usually take the time to think about it, we begin learning
symbols from the time we are a child. This is just as true for people of
every culture around the world, today as it was thousands of years ago for the
ancient Egyptians, the Romans, the Greeks, the Hebrews and all the other
people of the world.
Egyptian hieroglyphic symbols are famed for their antiquity. Scholars and
historians are still attempting to decipher many of these symbols, some of
which, in similar formats are used within Freemasonry, today, such as the Point
Within a Circle, the Sun, Moon, etc. Some believe that Moses brought the
knowledge of these symbols with him after the Hebrews left Egypt.
Roman Symbols: The Romans developed a numbering system we call
"Roman numerals", which is still in use, even today.
Greek Alphabet: The Greek alphabet descends from the Phoenician
alphabet. These alphabetic symbols are used today in mathematics and
science. The names of college fraternity and sorority houses are often named using
the symbols of the Greek alphabet. The Greek alphabet was the
forerunner to other alphabets such as Latin, Gothic and Cyrillic alphabets.
Why are ancient symbols important to Freemasons, today?
The Old Testament of the Holy Scriptures was written first
in Hebrew, (plus 8
chapters which were written in Aramaic). In approximately 250-50 B.C., the
Hebrew text was translated to Greek (called the Septuagint Bible).
In approximately 400 A.D., the Greek translation was translated into Latin
(called St. Jerome's Vulgate Bible).
(For more information
about the different Bibles throughout history, see
Freemasonry and the Bible).
Phoenicia is the ancient name for the country we now know as Lebanon.
The city of Tyre, Lebanon is best known to Freemasons as the city in which
Hiram Abif resided before he was called into the employ of King Solomon.
(For more information about Tyre, Lebanon, see Masonic
Q: Why is that of any importance, today?
A: Many Masonic symbols are a part of the
shared history of the world.
Some Masonic symbols originated in the Holy Scriptures, which was originally written in Hebrew. A few of them are:
Boaz and Jachin:
The ornate pillars which stood on both sides of the entrance to King Solomon's temple; (1 Kings 7:13-22)
The Holy Scriptures tell us that acacia was used to construct most of the sacred furniture and the tabernacle within King Solomon's temple. (Exodus 25:10 and Ezekial 27:19)
King Solomon and his Master Masons
The Altar of Incense (1 Kings
Others are of unknown origin and date.
Masonic Symbols in History
Masonic symbols such as the
double-headed eagle used by the Scottish Rite are steeped in antiquity.
The double-headed eagle appears on the Coat of Arms of many different countries,
as well as several national flags.
The double-headed eagle symbol may also be seen on the flag of the
Greek Orthodox Church. The Holy Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire, too, both used the double-headed
eagle as an emblem of their rulership.
Q: Does that mean that Masonic symbols such as the
double-headed eagle are
emblematic of rulership
Q: Does that mean that Freemasonry's double-headed
eagle has anything to do with
the Greek Orthodox Church?
Q: Does that mean that the Greek Orthodox Church's
double-headed eagle has anything to do with
The symbolism for each entity using the double-headed eagle is quite
different,... just as different as each entity is from one another.
It is important to realize that most Masonic symbols did not suddenly appear
with the advent of speculative Freemasonry in 1717. As you can see, above,
many (not all) of the
Masonic symbols we learn, today, go back thousands of years, quite literally into the mists of
This is where for many people, Freemasonry becomes erroneously confused with
ancient secrets, evil and other convoluted beliefs.
Hebrew Symbols From The Holy Scriptures
The first 5 books of the Holy Scriptures (Old Testament)
were originally written in Hebrew (in the Torah). As a percentage of the
world's population, few people around the world speak the Hebrew language,
today. Therefore, because of this lack of knowledge, many people fear the
meaning of symbols with which they are not familiar.
Unfortunately, this fear sometimes translates quite
quickly from a fear of the unknown to an unfounded fear of evil. Evil has
no part within Freemasonry.
An excellent example of this is the Masonic symbol,
This is the symbol for the Lodge of
Perfection within the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry.
Scottish Rite Freemasonry degrees are
advanced Freemason degrees (in the United States) which a Freemason may choose to attain once he has
obtained his Master Mason degree.
The golden symbol at the center on a blue
background (which looks somewhat like a flame blowing in the wind) is the Hebrew
letter "Yod". Yod is the first letter of the sacred name of the Supreme
Being (YHWH) in the original Hebrew from which the Bibles of today have been
The name of YHWH "Yahway", also pronounced as "Jehovah". The "J" is pronounced as a "Y" which would be "Ye-Ho-Vah". YHWH is written in Hebrew in
The Dead Sea Scrolls and is used approximately 7000 times in the Bible,...more
than any other name for God.
These 4 letters (YHWH) represent the current, past and future tenses of the
Hebrew word for "to be".
HVH (pronounced Hovah) means "to be".
HYH (pronounced Hayah) means "was".
YHYH (pronounced Yi-yeh) means "will be".
Therefore, God has always been, is now, and
will always be
The Supreme Being was, is and will always be at the heart of Freemasonry and a
part of our Masonic symbolism.
Q: Does this mean I would have
to learn or
understand the Hebrew language to be a
A: No. Most Freemasons do not know Hebrew.
Q: Does this mean that only those of the Hebrew or
Jewish faith can be Freemasons?
A: No. Freemasonry extends its hand of friendship to
men from all religions around the world.
Q: Does this mean that mostly
Hebrew or Jewish people
A: No. The fraternity of Freemasonry has members from
Most Freemason symbols do not require any knowledge of the
Hebrew language. The reason I discuss this Masonic symbol is because
Freemasonry has its roots in the Holy Scripture. The Holy Scripture was
originally written in Hebrew.
Q: Why do you call it the Holy
Scriptures instead of the Bible?
A: The Holy Scripture
encompasses not only Christian
Freemasons, but members of other religions.
Q: If I want to become a
Freemason, what do I need to do?
A: In most jurisdictions, you
need to believe in a Supreme
Being, be a male and be over 21 years of age. In
jurisdictions in the United States, you must request to
become a member.
In other parts of the world, a
member or members of a
lodge may ask a prospective member if he would like to
join their lodge. (Click on the
link at the bottom of this
page if you are interested in more information about how
to become a Freemason.)
Q: Why do Freemasons call God
the "Supreme Being" or the
"Supreme Architect" of the Universe?
A: Freemasonry is not a
religion. The fraternity of Freemasonry
embraces men from all religions. Different
the Supreme Being by different names, such as God,
YHWH, Jehovah, I Am That I Am (as God spoke to
(Moses) and many others. All men understand the
"Supreme Being" as a word representing deity.
Ancient Symbols in History
Some of the symbols that we know, today, as Masonic symbols are to be found in ancient cultures and in some schools
of thought in more recent times, notably those of the Rosicrucians, the
Hermeticists, the Kabalists, as well as the mystic and occult schools of thought
such as the Gnostics, the Pythagoreans and the Neo-Platomists.
within these ancient mystic and occult schools of thought that mystical beliefs and
alchemy also become confused with Freemasonry.
Many of these ancient symbols are interwoven
through the ages into the history of Man and therefore, due to
Freemasonry's antiquity, by default, they have also been woven into the history
Masonic Light Begins With Masonic Symbols
Your quest for Masonic light (knowledge) is a journey
which will take you on many fascinating paths back through history. Like
any traveler, it is just as important that we learn about different cultures
throughout different eras as it is to learn about and visit other jurisdictions
within Freemasonry. While on the journey, it is also important that
we do not lose our way.
While all knowledge is good;... just
as the North Star has been used for milleniums (thousands of years) to guide
travelers home, we must also remember that as a traveler, w must not get so caught up in any one of these ancient schools
of thought so deeply that we forget to look up and let the star's light chart
our way home.
the take-home lessons of Freemasonry is that the Masonic student should not only learn the meanings of
Masonic symbols, but also remember that we are simply visitors to the historical information we read.
that sense, we must remember that different Masonic authors may sometimes imply
slightly different meanings gleaned from their own perception and understanding of that
ancient body of knowledge which may
not perfectly agree with meanings gleaned from other authors throughout history.
This holds equally true for different jurisdictions around the world.
Masonic Symbols Usage:
It is also important to know that an earlier usage (within history) of the same symbol is not
necessarily the source of its Masonic symbolism interpretation...even when the earlier
explanation of what we recognize as one of our Masonic symbols is similar to our
known Masonic interpretation.
It is also necessary for all Masons to know that there
are slight deviations in Masonic symbol meanings across different Masonic
jurisdictions around the world. One example of this is that Freemasons in
the United States speak of the trestle board. Freemasons in England and Canada
speak of it as a "tracing board". Neither are wrong, (depending
upon the jurisdiction).
In different jurisdictions around the world, slightly
different Masonic working tools (with somewhat different symbolism) are also
used. These tools, too are correct within their jurisdiction.
Noted Masonic Symbologists
Each of the authors, below have attempted to personally explain Masonic
Symbols. Since this is a Masonic education website, each of the
hyperlinks, below will take you to an online book seller where, if you would
like to acquire a more in depth knowledge about Masonic symbols, you may
purchase these books written by these Masonic scholars.
Visual learning has been with us for thousands of years.
The cavemen drew symbols. The Egyptians created hieroglyphics. In fact, we are
so surrounded by symbols in our everyday lives and have grown so
used to them that we even take them for granted.
In addition, symbols have
been so ingrained in us as a part of our education that we have forgotten when,
where or who taught them all to us.
Alphabetic Symbols: Each letter of the alphabet is the symbol
for a certain sound...."A" stands for "apple", "C stands for "cat". From
our earliest learning as a child, we are instructed that it is easiest to learn
a particular sound when we can see the physical symbol which it represents.
Driving and Transportation Symbols:
A red light means "stop". Most highway signs, too, are represented by
symbols such as the use of arrows and the use of different colored signs to
denote different actions, such as yellow, green and red signs.
Musical Symbols: If you play an
instrument, you will need to learn musical symbols.
Computer Symbols: Every single key on your keyboard and all
of the icons on your computer screen's toolbar are also symbols. They
liken one thing with another...using a graphical, visual object as a memory aid
such as this e-mail symbol. Even web graphics are symbols.
Electrical symbols, construction symbols, cartographer
(map makers) symbols; ...we all learn thousands of symbols throughout our lives. Depending on the
type of career or specialty field we have chosen to embrace, we acquire a new
set of special symbols.
The list of specialty symbols is endless.
Q: Why Do So Many Symbols Abound?
A: Symbols provide Man with the fastest way to learn.
It is no wonder then, that Freemasonry, like many other organizations
throughout history, has its own set of specialty symbols
which compare one thing with another as a memory aid.
Q:Are Masonic symbols mystical?
A: No more so than other specialty subsets of symbols.
However, due to the fact that the Supreme Being is central to Freemasonry, many Masonic symbols such as the Masonic Altar, the Eye of God and others have Deity (the Supreme Being) as their central focus.
This is the foundation on which Masonic degrees "Make Good Men Better".
In your ongoing quest for knowledge via this free online
education website about Freemasonry, this link has more in depth information about the history of Masonic Symbols
as well as links to specific
I hope you have found this information to be helpful to you
as you gain Masonic knowledge on your Masonic journey.
Fiat Lux! (Let there be light!)
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