The Square and Compasses

 

While not unique to Freemasonry, the interlaced Square and Compasses are almost universally recognized as the emblem of Freemasonry. However, the Square and Compasses have not always been linked in Masonic ritual and it appears the symbolism of these two emblems developed separately. In early 18th century Masonic charts, the Square and Compasses are often depicted without the other, and when they are both presented, they are rarely shown together and never are they interlaced as we see them presented today. None of the early Masonic publications appear to have contained representations of either the Square or the Compasses. It appears, based on early Masonic disclosures, that the Square and Compasses were considered simply Furniture of the Lodge until later in the 1700's when they were elevated to Great Lights in the Masonic ritual. Furthermore, it was into the 19th century before the interlaced Square and Compasses were being depicted in Masonic charts and publications. A glimpse of the symbolic nature of the Square and Compasses as individual symbols has been discussed in previous articles.

Over the years, these two symbols of Freemasonry have become inextricably linked as a public symbol of the Fraternity. In 1873, a flour manufacturer attempted to trademark the interlaced square and compasses but the United States Patent Office denied the trademark request. In rendering its decision, the Patent Office said, "this device, so commonly worn and employed by Masons, has an established mystic significance, universally recognized as existing; whether comprehended by all or not, is not material to this issue. In view of the magnitude of the Masonic organization, it is impossible to divest its symbols, or at least this particular symbol - perhaps the best known of all - of its ordinary signification, wherever displayed…"

The Freemason is introduced to the Square and Compasses during the Entered Apprentice Degree and they are prominent symbols through the Fellowcraft and Master Mason Degrees. As obvious as the lessons of these two symbols may appear upon first glance, deeper reflection suggests far greater symbolism that can be grasped only after long and patient study of the Square and Compasses. As individual symbols, the Square and Compasses take on special meanings for the pupil of Freemasonry. However, as the degrees progress, an increasing seriousness and depth of meaning are discoverable to the Freemason.

When the Square and Compasses are viewed as a compound symbol, their individual symbolism takes on greater meaning. In the Entered Apprentice and Fellowcraft Degrees the Square and Compasses symbolize the earth and impress upon the Freemason the importance of controlling our desires. In the Master Mason Degree the Compasses represent those things Heavenly. Within the context of the three degrees they represent our personal journey in life where our understanding progresses from a worldly viewpoint of life to the ultimate spiritual perspective.

To help understand this symbolism, one must consider the use of the Square and Compasses in each degree and the representation of the three degrees as a whole. Without this reference, much of the meaning of the Square and Compasses is lost to the Freemason. Viewed in the aggregate, the lodge is emblematical of the world, while initiation is representative of birth, and the three degrees represent man's existence here and in the hereafter.

In the Entered Apprentice Degree, one learns that the symbolic lodge extends from East to West, from North to South, and from the center of the earth to the heavens. As such the lodge symbolizes the world and the place where all men live and work. If the lodge represents the world and the Mason represents man, it follows that initiation must represent the introduction of the individual to the world or the birth of a child.

The introduction of the Entered Apprentice candidate into the lodge represents the entrance of man upon the world's stage. As a child we enter this world dependent upon those around us for the necessities of life and for our intellectual and moral development. Thus the Entered Apprentice represents childhood and youth, that preparatory stage of life where we grow into mature and responsible adults. The Fellowcraft Mason represents man during the productive years of his life, where he worships his God, provides for his family, serves society and continues his pursuit of knowledge and understanding. Thus the lodge in the Entered Apprentice and Fellowcraft Degrees represents the world where all workmen labor at their vocations and in the acquisition of human knowledge and virtue.

In the Master Masons Degree, the lodge represents the Sanctum Sanctorum of King Solomon's Temple, a symbol of Heaven. It is here the Freemason is symbolically brought into the presence of Deity, where nothing earthly or unclean is allowed to enter. In this degree, the Freemason is encouraged to pursue divine truth and understanding and admonished to develop his spiritual self. The reference to death and the afterlife is obvious, with the emphasis being on the spiritual afterlife. Thus the Master Mason Degree represents the reflective stage of life, old age, death, the resurrection, and the everlasting life.

In ancient symbolism, the square signified the earth, while a circle, drawn with the compasses, represented the heavens. For the Freemason, the Square represents what is earthly and material while the Compasses signify the heavenly and the spiritual. It is not without significance then that the position of the points of the compasses within the interlaced Square and Compasses changes as the Freemason progresses from an Entered Apprentice Mason to a Fellowcraft Mason and finally to a Master Mason. It represents his progression in life from the here to the hereafter, from birth to the everlasting life, from the seeker of human knowledge to the seeker of divine understanding where the spiritual has obtained full mastery and control over the earthly and material.

The Square represents the moral law that dictates our relationships with others and guides our actions here on earth. The Compasses signifies our endless pursuit of spiritual understanding and our relationship to God. Together, the Square and Compasses should constantly remind the Freemason of the balance required between the earthly and the spiritual, that our spiritual nature should rule and govern our earthly nature knowing that in the end He will dispense impartial justice and will either reward or punish us in the everlasting life according to our obedience to His divine commands while on this earth.