As Masons, we understand the vital role that symbols play within the craft. Symbols of antiquity are used to communicate various messages to brothers during their respective Masonic journeys. Different symbols are used to articulate particular teachings and convey stories and allegories with a meaning unique to the craft within each degree.
Many Masonic symbols originate from ancient cultures all around the world, ranging from Ancient Egypt to Mesopotamia. Others are borrowed from the most prominent religions, while a significant number represent the tools and practices of stonemasons of the Middle Ages.
One of a brother’s most significant tasks when becoming an Entered Apprentice is learning the significance of Masonic symbolism and recognizing symbols as and when they appear. Let’s look at some of the most prominent symbols within Freemasonry and understand their historical significance.
The Eye of Providence
The all-seeing eye, also known as the Masonic eye, or the Eye of Providence, is one of the most widely recognized symbols within the craft and is prone to much speculation.
Since time immemorial, the all-seeing eye has represented a superior being watching over humanity. That symbolism has continued through today, where Freemasons see the Eye of Providence as the watchful eye of The Grand Architect of the Universe.
The Eye of Providence is of significant interest to conspiracy theorists and those outside the craft. It is featured on the US dollar bill and is seen as definitive proof by conspiracy theorists of a link between the US government and Freemasonry.
The Eye of Providence in Freemasonry represents the fact that a mason’s actions never go unseen, and they should always behave in a socially acceptable and responsible way. This is crucial to understanding Freemasons’ behavior, as they adhere to a code, and their actions are held to account by a supreme being.
The hourglass is a common device that has been utilized in cultures for centuries. In its simplest form, an hourglass is used to measure time intervals and is commonly used in modern times as a measuring device for certain games and activities.
For Masons, the hourglass signifies the eternal passage of time. As the sand slips away into the bottom chamber, it serves as a continual reminder to brothers that life is finite and they should make the most of it while they can.
It also acts as an analogy between the upper and the lower, and the requirement to turn the device from top to bottom symbolizes the cycle between life and death and heaven and earth.
The Acacia Tree
Native to Palestine and other parts of the middle east, the acacia tree is now widely found throughout stunning national parks and across sprawling savannahs. The tree can grow to extraordinary heights and is made of a very firm wood.
To Hebrews, acacia is a sacred wood known as “Shittah,” and it is noted in the Bible that the ark of the covenant was crafted from it. Hebrews mark their graces with a sprig of acacia to depict immortality, and this practice has been used for thousands of years.
Aligning with the Masonic belief in the afterlife, the acacia tree represents the immortal souls of Freemasons. It signifies the fact that a brother is judged during his worldly activities and must live a moral life that is rewarded favorably by an eternity in heaven once he passes.
The Two-Headed Eagle
The two-headed eagle is one of the oldest symbols of all time, and it has been widely used in cultures throughout human history. From ancient Egypt and Babylon to the Roman Empire, the symbol has endured throughout history and has been adopted by religious orders, societies, and even whole nations.
The double-headed eagle is commonly emblazoned upon rings and hats worn by brothers within the Scottish Rite. In this regard, it is thought of as a symbol of prestige, as the Scottish Rite is a rather exclusive section of Freemasonry.
You can identify the double-headed eagle of the 32nd degree by how the eagle’s wings are arranged. On regalia, the wings are usually pointed downward, although sometimes they are pointed up.
The Blazing Star
The Blazing Star holds various meanings within the lodge and should not be confused with a common star symbol. Utilized within the 28th degree of the Scottish Rite, the star symbolizes the concept of Freemasonry at its very highest peak.
Essentially, a brother is expected to use his knowledge to become like a blazing star, that shines brightly in the darkness and acts as a beacon to those that need direction and support. Throughout the Rite, the star is also said to represent a beacon of truth, holding true to the Masonic value of integrity.
The Masonic gavel has two main symbolic and practical uses. Firstly, it is a timely reminder to remove the excesses and vices of life. In the middle ages, the gavel was used to break off the rough edges of a stone.
When used in this way, the gavel is a reminder to Freemasons to chip off the edges of their lives that cause strife and difficulty and is a constant reminder of the importance of development and improvement.
Secondly, the gavel is used by the Master of the Lodge in ceremonies and is also used as a sign of authority. Practically, the gavel is used to maintain order during meetings. It is a symbol through which the Freemason using it can command respect and communicate his ideas to the fraternity.
To the ancient brothers of the middle ages who worked as stonemasons, the beehive represents how men worked together without heavy machinery to accomplish difficult tasks. Much like bees work together in their colonies and carry individual roles to fulfil a communal objective, the beehive serves as a reminder of a brother’s duty to their lodge.
What’s more, the beehive today is a reminder of the importance of the diversity of Freemasons, as people come from different backgrounds to serve a shared purpose. It’s a powerful way of appreciating the fact that Masons come from different parts of the world to serve a common goal.
The moon is held in the utmost regard by Masons, who regard it as the biblical ruler of the night and a reminder of the Master of the lodge’s conduct. The moon’s significance has its roots in an Ancient Egyptian tradition that associates the moon with the senior warden in the west.
It’s also believed that the moon is meant to be parallel to the Worshipful Master of the lodge which is associated with the sun and the Ionic pillar of wisdom. Because of the high esteem with which the moon is held within Freemasonry, you are likely to see it represented in Masonic art and within lodges worldwide.
The Pillars of Boaz and Jachin
When Masons speak of the two pillars guarding King Solomon’s Temple, they refer to the pillars that the Bible identifies as Boaz and Jachin. According to the Bible, Boaz and Jachin were two copper, brass, or bronze pillars that stood on the porch of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem.
The pillars were built by Hiram Abiff, chief architect of the first temple of King Solomon, an integral symbol within Freemasonry itself.
The pillars of Boaz and Jachin represent what is understood in Eastern philosophy as the pairs of opposites. They represent the fact that a Mason is taught to balance the opposing forces of his own nature by aligning his thoughts, feelings, and actions with the grand plan.
The 47th Problem of Euclid
The 47th problem of Euclid is more commonly known today as the Pythagorean Theorem. It is a reminder to Freemasons of the need to ‘square their square.’ To men outside the craft, it appears to be a group of unimportant squares, but to Masons, it has great significance.
It is a reminder to brothers that they need to keep their life in order by maintaining good relationships, doing the right thing, and being a good man to those around them. It’s a reminder of the importance of living life in line with Masonic values.
A Sheaf of Corn
The Masonic sheaf of corn can be traced back to the time of King Solomon. It represents the wages that the master Masons gained from their work. Today, the sheaf of corn is a symbol that represents the rewards of the fruits of a Mason’s labor and the sacrifices that a Mason makes to become a better man.
Commonly today, the sheaf of corn is used to represent charitable giving to the less fortunate during dedication ceremonies. Charitable giving is a vital part of Freemasonry today, and the sheaf serves as a reminder to Freemasons about the importance of giving to his fellow man.
While this article has introduced many of the most common Masonic symbols, it’s important to recognize its limitations. Many critical symbols have been omitted, such as the letter G, the square and compasses, and the Masonic apron to name but three.
Because Freemasonry is so complex and is incorporated within so many degrees, one could make an argument for the existence of hundreds of symbols within the craft. It goes without saying that it’s beyond the scope of this article to introduce them all!