Masonic Symbols

Demystifying Masonic Symbols

Masonic symbols



Symbols represent a more complex idea by use of the "face value" of a graphical image. 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.


masonic setting maul


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.


Ancient Symbols

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.

Q: 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). 

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.

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) 
  • Acacia: 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 (1Kings 5:15-17)
  • The Altar of Incense (1 Kings 6:22)
  • 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 within Freemasonry? 

A: No.

Q: Does that mean that Freemasonry's double-headed eagle has anything to do with the Greek Orthodox Church? 
A: No.

Q: Does that mean that the Greek Orthodox Church's double-headed eagle has anything to do with Freemasonry?
A: No.

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 time.

This is where for many people, Freemasonry becomes erroneously confused with ancient secrets, evil and other convoluted beliefs.

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 Michigan Freemason, what do I need to do? 
A: You need to believe in a Supreme Being, be a male and be over 19 years old.  You must request to become a member and you must be a resident of the State of Michigan for at least one year or 6 months if in the Military. 

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 religions call the Supreme Being by different names, such as God, Allah, YHWH, Jehovah, I Am That I Am (as God spoke to (Moses) and many others. All men understand the words "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.

It is 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 of Freemasonry.

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, we 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.

One of 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.

In 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.


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 Freemason Symbols. 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!) Simon

Lodge masonic symbols