A point before starting is that all Masonic symbols are positive, none are aimed at anything that is not for the good of the mason as an individual, and through him, for the world at large. We degrade no symbol and none can ever be considered to be contrary to the high principles we extol.
Remember that there is no right or wrong to symbolism - it is what you accept as meaningful to you as a Craftsman. The following are my findings and interpretations and it is quite likely that you will have different interpretations.
The Master carries with him, a great symbol. It is one of the immoveable jewels. The square is the symbol of regulated life and actions. It is the Masonic rule for correcting and harmonizing conduct of principles or morality and virtue, and as a symbol, it is dedicated to the Master. We also identify yourselves with this symbol, because we are taught that squares, levels and perpendiculars are the proper signs to know a mason. We are surrounded by squares in our Lodge for every mason wears at least one although the Immediate Past Master and the Past Masters wear it most obviously. It stands, as one of the Great Lights, in the center of all our activities and its legs constantly embrace the Worshipful Master. It is repeated in our F.C. salute, our feet positions, our way of moving around the Lodge and our legs when at the altar in our initiation.
History tells us that the square, which is an upright with a right top arm, is the Greek letter gamma. Each one of us knows the meanings associated with the letter G. In the construction trade, the square is used for "trueing" stones and "proving" them correct. We can see how easily, the association with truth and virtue could arise. There was the historical belief that the shape of the ancient world was an oblong square and this is represented in our “squared Lodge."
There have been references to the square's meaning as a symbol long before the start of Masonry, as we know it. The Egyptians believed that truth and justice were 'on the square', Confucius in about 500 BC referred to the squareness of actions. Mencius, the Chinese philosopher of about 372 BC refers to square actions. Simonides of Ceos, the Greek lyrical poet of about 600 BC and Aristotle in about 350 BC refer to 'square actions' and associate this with honest dealings, high morality and virtue.
The symbol is not original, it is certainly far from new, but it seems to have a remarkable consistency of meaning. If we move on to the Immediate Past Master's jewel for a moment, we observe that it is identical to the Master's in shape except that pendant from it is the 47th problem of Euclid. It is important to remember that Euclid only proved the Pythagorean theorem of about 300 years earlier. When you consider what the theorem shows it is a multitude of further squares. Squares on sides, mathematically ‘squared' numbers and a central closed square, about which all the ‘proof' stands. As an emphasis of the square symbol we could see nothing which could do it better. We should know that the properties of this triangular arrangement were first thought to be magical in the relationship they demonstrated. In addition, Pythagoras, being Greek, may have had the Greek letter/symbol G in his mind when he is reputed to have exclaimed 'Eureka' and it is for us to decide if the utility or the symbolism had generated his joy. We learn in our work that we are to be inspired to love the arts and sciences by this design and proof. We should always marvel that such a simple figure could have had such impact on our world.
To act upon the square to all Mankind. To be on the Level
The jewel of the Senior Warden is the Level. We meet upon this sign, and we have all been raised from the dead level to the living perpendicular. The symbol, we are taught, shows the principle of equality and reminds us that we are all descended from one stock and possess one nature and it thus justifies our organization as a fraternity of equals. At Pompeii it was discovered that a carving of a level with symbols of death demonstrated an early belief in death as the great leveler. This, is our great experience. We are also told that we are travelling on a level of time to an undiscovered country from which no traveler returns. This also associates death with levels and this is patterned after associations which exist outside the craft.
The Junior Warden's Jewel is of course the plumb rule referred to in our lectures as the symbol of rectitude and uprightness. A fairly simple relationship to be sure. There is a link with this jewel and Jacob's ladder stretching between heaven and earth and stressing a morality which should be practiced. We are instructed in our steps to stand erect and charged to act upon this symbol as we leave Lodge. This association is identical within and without the Lodge.
We now move to a few of the simpler symbols worn as jewels by our officers, and while some simply indicate their role they have a few meanings on which we may think. The doves of the deacons have long had two symbolic meanings, that of a messenger and that of peace. The dove we see in Lodge has the sprig of olive in its beak and is clearly a representative of Noah who used it as a messenger of good tidings. The deacons jewel was, in an earlier period, a representation of the God Hermes or Mercury who was again the messenger of the ancient gods..
The stewards wear and carry the cornucopia which is a representation of the horn of the goat which, in legend, suckled the infant Jupiter. The horn symbolizes strength and abundance and suggests the supply of food as it is usually displayed full of fruits. In our Lodges this is associated with those responsible for satisfying the "inner man" after regular meetings are concluded. As in the case of Amalthea the goat with the "visiting Jupiter", the supply is supposed to be particularly abundant in the presence of visitors.
The chaplain wears what is perhaps the most important symbol within our Lodge, for his jewel portrays the open volume of Sacred Law, without which no Lodge can operate. It guides us in the erection of our spiritual building and points out our whole duty. It is the rule and guide to our faith and is kept in our hearts between our meetings. The Bible on the jewel is open upon a triangle which has additional symbolism for the Christian mason in that it represents the trinity. For all masons the triangle can remind us of the three moral virtues, the principle tenets of our profession, the knocks, the ruffians, the Great Lights, the lesser lights, the three degrees, the three Grand Masters, God and the Holy St.'s John and the steps, both our individual ones and those upon which the Master presides. There are so many references to the number three that it rivals the numbers even for sheer volume. Suffice it to say that the symbolism of this particular jewel is particularly meaningful to masons, and each should have his own particular interpretation without any suggestion that this should be imposed on others. Again at this point you should observe the positive nature of the symbols and the major influence they should have upon our thoughts.
The secretary wears the crossed quills which seem to be the international symbol of a secretary. The saltire pattern, the bows and the trailing ends have no recorded significance, but, we all know this jewel indicates an onerous task performed by many sound Brethren.
The treasurer has crossed keys rather than quills and these are, of course, to the money chest of the Lodge. This is simply a role indicator but these keys should remind us of "that excellent key - a Freemason's tongue which should speak well of a Brother present or absent. When this cannot be done, adopt the excellent virtue of the Craft - SILENCE.
The secretary-treasurer has a combination of a crossed key and quill but I will not go into which one is on top. The jewel of the Director of Ceremonies is the crossed batons. These are symbols of the batons of command which were presented on the field of battle to an outstanding survivor. Possibly this is why this office is held by Past Masters.
The Inner Guard and the Tyler both have swords, differing only in that the Tyler has one whereas the Inner Guard has two. These have always been symbols of a protector and in particular have been associated with the defense of a faith. The sword has the reputation of warding off evil because in the inverted position it forms a cross. In addition, within the Lodge, we know that the
Tyler's sword guards the Constitution and is a constant reminder to guard our thoughts, words, and deeds, remembering the mas onic virtues of silence and circumspection. Having looked at the jewels we should also observe the collars from which they are suspended, because these in some cases have symbols. The principal symbols are the blazing star the entwined snakes and knots. The blazing star pattern used, is usually that of the "pentalpha", or five pointed star with intermediate flames. This star is primarily the symbol of divine providence and can be found in our mosaic pavement. The five points should remind us also of other masonic "fives". The five orders of architecture, the five points of fellowship, the five senses and the five who must be present in order for a Lodge to be held. The star is also said to represent the Morning Star which is yet another symbol of rebirth which is so significant to each of us.
I should point out that there is a six pointed star or hexalpha which is also known as the "Glory". This six pointed star is the Seal of Solomon and also the Star of David. This star is also represented on the carpet at times and there is distinct confusion in the texts over which star is THE star to use. The primary symbolic meaning of the six pointed star is the universe as an entity.
Also to be found on the collar is this complex looping which shows a serpent swallowing its tail, a common symbol of eternity and in many cases associated with wisdom. The double entwined never ending loops are similarly symbols of eternity but have the additional meanings ascribed to them of vibrant energy and active life. These symbols are worthy of our contemplation in relation to the stability and teachings of the Craft. We then hear the next symbol although modern methods sometimes deny us the sound which adorns the apron, the seven chained tassel. This is a fairly late addition and is thought to be more a decorative copying of the ends of the original longer and centrally tied ribbon or belt. The changing to tassels was slowly developed and perhaps we could turn our thoughts again to the symbolism of the number seven, already related for the Masters jewel. In addition to the tassels we have the buttons which contain our principal symbols again. Here the only addition is the compasses which I leave to your personal investigation for our teaching clearly suggests that they are for the craft. Before closing we should end with a symbol of utility which would make Freud turn in his grave, for the standard hook on an apron is a snake. While we will accept 'wisdom', it is possibly simply a decorated, very functional 'hook', with no great thought put into it. We certainly do not all have one at any rate.
These are then the jewels of the Lodge, the collar and aprons worn by our officers and perhaps they have shown a little more than you have normally noticed. If you would look at the Jewels in the next few Lodges you attend, you will find similarities and differences. These will take on a new meaning because you have looked, and possibly you may find more meaning in various aspects of your personal masonry by contemplation of the new symbols you find or the old ones that you know. I sincerely hope so.