Symbols of Freemasonry

It has been correctly stated that “the symbol constitutes the very essence of Freemasonry.” Freemasonry is essentially a science of symbolism. In the English lectures Freemasonry is defined to be “a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” It might be better to say that Freemasonry is a system of morality developed an uncorrelated by the science of symbolism. It is this peculiar character as a symbolic institution, this almost exclusive adoption of the method of instruction by symbolism, which gives its whole identity to Freemasonry and causes it to differ from every other institution that the ingenuity of man has devised. It is this unique characteristic that has bestowed upon Freemasonry that attractive form and cement of brotherhood which is always secured the attachment of its disciples and contributed most largely to the perpetuity of Masonry.

Withdraw from Freemasonry it symbolism, and you take from the body its soul, leaving behind nothing but a lifeless mass of effete matter,  fitted only for a rapid decay. Symbolism was the germ from which the tree of Freemasonry sprang, and which still gives to it its main support, nourishment, existence. Hence that inestimable value of this chart which visualizes the symbols of the Masons journey “From Darkness to Light.”

The Science of Symbolism Explained

A symbol or an emblem, for the two words are often used simultaneously, is an occult representation of something unknown or concealed by a sign or thing that is known; it is the expression of an idea which is derived from the comparison or contrast with some object with a moral conception or attribute. Thus a square is in Freemasonry and emblem or symbol of morality; a plumb line, of rectitude of conduct; the level, of equality; the beehive, of industry. A symbol may be of representation of an idea by a visible object; it is in both a symbol and an emblem; or it may be the representation of an idea incorporated in a narrative, a myth, or a legend, brought before the mind only by words; it is then a symbol only and not an emblem.

The Origin of Masonic Symbols

Freemasonry was founded as a speculative science on an operative art. It therefore took the working tools of the profession of which it spiritualizes, and made them the symbols for the communication of instruction in the mysteries of the Order. Terms of architecture, the Temple of Solomon, and everything that is connected with its traditional history, has been adopted as the symbols of its great moral and philosophical teachings. Many of the sublimest forms of instruction in Freemasonry are mythological and legendary, and, for the most part, these are symbolic and impress the mind with great spiritual and philosophical truths. The legends of masonry are parables, and a parable is only a spoken symbol.

Symbolic Degrees

The Germ and nucleus of all Freemasonry is to be found in the three primitive degrees: the Apprentice, the Fellow-craft, and the Master Mason. There were at one time – under a modification, however, which includes the Royal Arch – the only degrees known to or practice by the Craft, and hence they are often called “Ancient Craft Masonry”, to distinguish them from those comparatively modern additions which constitute what are designated as the “high degrees”. They are also called “Symbolic Degrees”, since the striking peculiarity of these primitive degrees is that their prominent in almost exclusive mode of instruction is by symbols. This cannot be said of the “high degrees”, although they are by no means free of “symbols”, and particularly of the mystic and legendary type. Hence it will be observed that the symbols herein given in the journey from darkness to light are confined almost entirely to the three primitive degrees, including the Royal Arch which was formally a part of these degrees.

We cannot here enumerate and explain these numerous symbols, but they are fully set forth and explained in the progressive course of a Mason.

Progressive Steps in Masonry

NOTE: The basic and judgmental principles of masonry are found in what is ordinarily known as “Blue Lodge Masonry”. Blue Lodge Masonry consists of three Degrees: the apprentice; the Fellowcraft; The Master.

The following quotations are from Albert Pike’s book On “Morals and Dogma.”



“Force, unregulated or ill regulated, is not only wasted in the void, like that of gunpowder burned in open air, and steam unconfined by science; but, striking in the dark, and its blows meeting only the air, they recoil and bruise itself. It is destruction and ruin, it is the volcano, the earthquake, the cyclone; – not growth and progress. It is Polyphemus blinded, striking at random, and falling headlong among the sharp rocks by the impetus of his own blows.

“The blind Force of the people is a force that must be economized, and also managed, as the blind Force of steam, lifting the ponderous iron arms in turning the large wheels, is made to bore and rifle the cannon interweave the most delicate lace. It must be regulated by Intellect. Intellect is to the people and the people’s Force, what the slender needle of the compass is to the ship – it’s soul, always counseling the huge mass of wood and iron, and always pointing to the North. To attack the citadels built up on all sides against the human race by superstitions, despotisms, and prejudices, the Force must have a brain and a law. Then its deeds of daring produced permanent results, and there is real progress. Then there are sublime conquests. Thought is a force, and philosophy should be an energy, finding its aim and its effects in the amelioration of mankind. The two great motors are Truth and Love. When all these Forces are combined, and guided by the Intellect, and regulated by the Rule of Right, and Justice, and of combined and systematic movement in effort, the great revolution prepared for by the ages will begin to march. The Power of the Deity Himself is in equilibrium with His Wisdom. Hence the only results are Harmony.”

* * *

“Though Masonry neither usurps the place of, nor apes religion, prayer is an essential part of our ceremonies. It is the aspiration of the soul toward the Absolute and Infinite Intelligence, which is the One Supreme Deity, most feebly and misunderstandingly characterized as an “ARCHITECT.” Certain faculties of many are directed toward the Unknown– thought, meditation, prayer. The unknown is an ocean, of which conscience is the compass. Thought, meditation, prayer, are the great mysterious pointings of the needle. It is a spiritual magnetism that thus connects the human soul with the Deity. These majestic irradiations of the soul pierced through the shadow toward the light.”

* * *

“A Lodge is defined to be an assemblage of Freemasons, duly congregated, having the sacred writings, square, and compass, and the charter, or warrant of constitution, authorizing them to work. The room or place in which they meet, representing some part of King Solomon’s Temple, is also called the Lodge; and it is that we are now considering. It is supported by Three great columns, Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty represented by the Master, Senior Warden and Junior Warden, the columns that support the Lodge.”



“In the Ancient Orient, all religion was more or less a mystery and there was no divorce from it of philosophy. The popular theology, taking the multitude of allegories and symbols for realities, degenerated into a worship of the celestial luminaries, of imaginary Deities with human feelings, passions, appetites, and lusts, of idols, stones, animals, reptiles. The Onion was sacred to the Egyptians, because it’s different layers were a symbol of the concentric heavenly spheres. Of course the popular religion could not satisfy the deeper longings and thoughts, the loftier aspirations of the Spirit, or the logic of reason. The first, therefore, was taught to the initiated in the Mysteries. There, also it was taught by symbols. The vagueness of symbolism, capable of many interpretations, reached what the palpable and conventional creed could not. It’s indefiniteness acknowledged the abstruseness of the subject; it treated that mysterious subject mystically; it endeavored to illustrate what it could not explain; to excite an appropriate feeling, if it could not develop an adequate idea; and to make the image a mere subordinate conveyance for the conception, which itself never became obvious or familiar.

“Thus the knowledge now imparted by books and letters, was of old conveyed by symbols; and the priests invented or perpetuated a display of rites and exhibitions, which were not only more attractive to the eye than words, but often more suggestive and more pregnant with meaning to the mind.

“Masonry, successor of the Mysteries, still follows the ancient manner of teaching. Her ceremonies are like the ancient mystic shows, – not the reading of an essay, but the opening of a problem, requiring research, and constituting philosophy, the arch-expounder. Her symbols are the instruction she gives. The lectures are endeavors, often partial and one-sided, to interpret the symbols. He who would become an accomplished Mason must not be content merely to hear, or even to understand, the lectures; he must, aided by them, and they having, as it were, marked out the way for him, study, interpret, and develop the symbols for himself.”

* * *

“Christianity taught the doctrine of FRATERNITY; but repudiated that of political EQUALITY, by continually inculcating obedience to Caesar, into those lawfully in authority, masonry was the first apostle of EQUALITY. In the Monastery there is a fraternity and equality, but no liberty. Masonry added that also, and claimed for man the three-fold heritage, LIBERTY, EQUALITY, and FRATERNITY.”



“To understand literally the symbols and allegories of Oriental books as to ante-historical matters is willfully to close our eyes against the Light. To translate the symbols into the trivial and commonplace, is the blundering of mediocrity.

All religious expression is symbolism; since we can describe only what we see, and the true objects of religion are THE SEEN. The earliest instruments of education were symbols; and they and all other religious forms differed and still differ according to external circumstances and imagery, and according to differences of knowledge and a mental cultivation. All language is symbolic, so far as it applied to mental and spiritual phenomena and action. All words have, primarily, a material sense, however they may afterward get, for the ignorant, a spiritual non-sense. ‘To retract,’ for example, is to draw back, and when applied to a statement, is symbolic, as much so as a picture of an arm drawn back, to express the same thing, would be. The very word ‘spirit‘ means ‘breath’, from the Latin verb, spiro, breathe.

“To present a visible symbol to the eye of another is not necessarily to inform him of the meaning which that symbol has to you. Hence the philosopher soon superadded to the symbols explanations addressed to the ear, susceptible of more precision, but less effective and impressive than the painted or sculptured forms which he endeavored to explain. Out of these explanations grew by degrees a variety of narrations, whose true object in meaning were gradually forgotten, or lost in contradictions and incongruities. And when these were abandoned, and Philosophy resorted to definitions and formulas, its language was but a more complicated symbolism. Attempting in the dark to grapple with and picture ideas impossible to be expressed. For as with the visible symbol, so with the word: to utter it to you does not inform you of the exact meaning which it has to me; and thus religion and philosophy became to a great extent disputes as to the meaning of the words. The most abstract expression for DEITY, which link which can supply, is but a sign or symbol for an object beyond our comprehension, and not more truthful and adequate then the images of OSIRIS and VISHNU, or their names, except as being less sensuous and explicit. We avoid sensuousness only by resorting to simple negation. We come at last to divine spirit by saying that it is not matter. Spirit is – spirit.”

York Rite Masonry

What Is Meant by the York Rite?

York Rite Masonry is the Christian Route Of Masonry following the teaching of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who said, “Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of Heaven.”

After you become a Master Mason, no matter what added Masonic honor may come to you, no matter how high you may rise in symbolic branches of the order, if you keep your vows as a Master Mason you have attained all there is, fulfilled all there is and received all there is to be received that fraternity and brotherhood, existing under a common impulse, can dispense among those who embrace the laws and edicts of a common procedure.

“Masonry, after all, is but a rule for orderly righteousness.”

Royal Arch Masonry

“The first step in York Rite Masonry is through the Royal Arch. This branch is known as the ‘Chapter,’ and consists of four degrees. They are Mark Master, Past Master, Most Excellent Master and the Royal Arch. They bear, perhaps, a closer relation to what is known as speculative Masonry then is contained in any of the works and symbols which have grown out of the three degrees previously received. They are, in fact, a continuance rather than an amplification of Ancient Craft Masonry in that in these degrees is recovered the ‘lost word,’ in the protection of which Hiram Abif lost his life. They bear the same relation to your Masonic progress that the High School bears to the Grammar School, or that of the work of A finished artist to the efforts of one who while having obtained in artists credentials, lacks in maturity and experience.”

“Royal Arch Masonry has a broadening influence upon the Masters mind. It is a logical sequel to what you have already undertaken and gives you an opportunity of participating in the solution of the problem it presents. It makes you feel that you are a better man for having worked out your own conception of service, and the lessons taught remain with you as a practical guide in your daily life.”

Cryptic Masonry

“Should you desire to more thoroughly familiarize yourself with York Rite Masonry, it is suggested you join with the Council of Royal and Select Master, and adjunct to the York Rite. It is not obligatory in the sense of graduation, but it is absolutely necessary if you want to get the full benefit of the York Rite.

“In these degrees, the Royal Master, Select Master, and Super–excellent Master, we find, beautifully exemplified, the regard which comes to loyal, faithful and preserving Masons. The work is historic and impressive. To take all the Masonic work and omit the Cryptic Rite would be to forgo the most nourishing the foods which go into your Masonic sustenance. There is little outward glory in taking these degrees, but they afford the Masonic student a source of intense interest and are necessary to a complete understanding of all Masonic procedure.”

The Order of the Knights Templar

“When you have passed through the Royal Arch you become eligible to take your first step in the Order of Knights Templar. This Order is composed of three orders, the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross, the Order of Malta and the Order of the Temple ( Knights Templar). In the lessons you will experience the most interesting, the most serious and most sublime impression which can come to anyone who is concerned with those impulses in life which make for better manhood, better citizenship and a better society. They take you from the most ancient times to the moment that you are yourself reminded of all that will someday remain of the shell which you now occupy.

“The Illustrious Order of the Red Cross is taken from the Bible and from the history of the Jews at the same time of Darius Hystaspis, ruler of Persia. It is a simple lesson of how a great monarch was moved to recognize the religious zeal of an oppressed people, and contains a sublime comparison of those forces in life which contend for supremacy. It is designed to impress upon you that there is but one God and that human nature changes but little over great cycles of time. It prepares you for a more serious participation in the work of which is to follow, and leaves you with a clearer understanding of its purport.

“The Order of Malta is a symbolic degree, which like the Order of the Knights Templar, found its inception in the period of the Crusades. Its adherents are known as the Knights of St. John. The Malta cross, which is worn by the Knights Templar in uniform, is symbolic of this degree.

“The Order of Knights Templar, which is conferred upon you in the Order of the Temple was founded in the 12th century, being much older than Ancient Craft Masonry in its present form. Its purpose was to defend the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. It was a union of the religious with the militants. And filled with a crying need of the time. It’s fortune, history and temporary suppression by Philip the Fair and Pope Clement in 1312, furnished the most absorbingly interesting story which has ever connected the activities of any society of men since the dawn of civilization.

“One reason why you are urged to become affiliated with the York Rite is that the world is today in greater need of the Order of Knights Templar then were the hero if crusaders of the 12th century. There is more at stake, more to save. You will find in the precepts of this institution a renewed conviction that right must prevail, that oppression, by any class whatsoever, is wrong and incompatible with Christian thought. It still combines a religious and militant spirit, and his pledge to defend those principles and ideas upon which civilization is based.

“When you have been created a Knight Templar he will have been reconsecrated to the service of your country.

“It is in order particularly fitted to American institutions. It embraces those ideals which have made human liberty the watchword of ages. You are impressed with your responsibility not only as a man and a Mason, but as a citizen and defender of the society of which you are a part. Nothing seditious can live in the ranks of Knights Templar. It offers no asylum to the disloyal and the soccor to those who seek to destroy what our forebears have builded. To be with yourself and with others, ever ready to lay down your life, if pledged to follow the banner of your Order and the American flag wherever they lead in human service, no matter what may be your condition in life or station in society.

“If you are willing to subscribe to these precepts you are welcome into the York Rite of masonry, into the Royal Arch, the Council, and the Order of Knights Templar. You are welcome not only as a member, a sojourner, a companion and knight, but as an active worker in any or all of these activities.”