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Masonic symbols (1st part)

Although the Masonic approach can concern all symbols, we will speak of Masonic symbols by referring to those expressly cited in the various Masonic rituals. A symbol can have several meanings, and each one is free to put a personal content into it; we think it is not uninteresting to explain the "first" meaning as it can be deduced from the reading of ancient texts. This lexicon will not deal with terms that do not have a symbolic content; (editor's note: this list will be progressively increased and completed).


Acacia: This is the desert tree; thorny tree belonging to the Fabaceae family, also called cassia, mimosa, mulga or tamarind. It is often confused with the robinia pseudoacacia.  It is a Masonic symbol linked to the legend of Hiram: the burial place of Hiram, after his murder, could only be found because it was planted with an acacia branch.  The acacia leaf has thus become a symbol of the quality of master mason and as such some people wear it in the secular world as a jewel as a sign of recognition. Acacia is one of the plant symbols found in freemasonry, along with laurel, olive, rose, ear of wheat and pomegranates. Acacia could be seen as a wonderful symbol of resilience.


Age: The Masonic age symbolizes the degree of knowledge and in this sense it refers to the symbolism of numbers; but for the greatest number, it is only an indicator; it refers to the grade or date of degree. For the Blue Lodges there are three ages (3, 5 and "7 years and over"), for other workshops, according to the rite, and according to degrees, there are many more!  


Air: (in the expression "trial of the air" - the word trial must be understood in the sense of feeling) in fact it is the movement of the air caused by a cardboard sheet; this movement is used during the initiation, generally during the 2nd journey; this symbol has several meanings; we can consider that the first meaning is biblical and refers to the Holy Spirit!


Arch: An architectural term meaning a vault or arched stone junction between two pillars; in the Bible it refers to a box, the Ark of the Covenant, in which the Ten Commandments were placed. It was positioned in the "Most Holy" visible only to the High Priest; in the Temple of Solomon, the Ark of the Covenant was in the Debhir. The ark symbolizes the covenant with God. The expression Royal Ark designates a Masonic rite to a degree created in England around 1740. 


Architect: Architect designates a function, a profession. As a symbol, the term refers to a quality; Freemasons are or should be architects, i.e. builders; the term is first found in the expression Great Architect of the Universe (or Great Architect of All Worlds) who is none other than God, but also in the title of certain degrees (such as the 12th degree of the REAA).


Altar: Furniture intended for worship since antiquity, it has become one of the symbols of the sacred space in which a relationship with God is ritualized. In lodge, this sacred space included, in the first lodges in the 18th century, the Venerable's desk and the altar which was just in front; with the creation of other customs, the sacred space has integrated the place between the three pillars inside which we sometimes see the lodge painting or other objects; in lodge the altar takes the name of the altar of oaths and the Three Great Lights (The Volume of the Sacred Law, the Square and the Compass) are placed there.


Eagle : The generic name of the raptors is frequently quoted in the various cultures and symbolizes first of all majesty, supremacy but also the capacity of regeneration. In the Bible it is associated with Saint John the Evangelist but also with Christ.  In Freemasonry, we find the eagle in particular in the REAA (30th grade) where it has several meanings according to changes in its appearance: the black eagle symbolizes the world of the dead, the white eagle that of the eternal East and therefore of eternity and the two-headed eagle refers to the Templar symbolism, especially of power and vengeance.


Lamb: The young of the sheep and the ram belongs to the symbolism since antiquity; in western civilization it is the symbol of Jesus Christ in his sacrificial function. In Freemasonry, it is found in several rites at the level of high ranks as for example in the 17th and 18th degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, Lamb of God, symbol of Christ, or the rank of Scottish Master of St. Andrew of the Scottish Rite Rectified.  The lamb thus has the function of representing Christ but also, by absorbing him, of purifying the impetrant: we find here the old anthropophagous myth which consisted in acquiring the qualities of the vanquished by absorbing his flesh.


Triumphant Lamb: In the 17th degree of the REAA, He embodies the triumph of renewal, the victory of life over death, innocence.


Harness : Element of the warrior's clothing since the time of the Franks, in fabric or leather, intended to support the sword or sabre; as a symbol, it is one of those aristocratic symbols introduced in French lodges to signify the equality between aristocrats and commoners. The harness is worn in blue box, by sisters and brothers, from the 3rd grade, which is why it is also called "cordon de maître".


Bible: Book of the Holy Scriptures, it is also a symbolic object in particular used at the very beginning of the existence of the lodges, when one takes an oath; placed in the sacred space of the lodge, on the altar its oaths, it was part of these symbols referring to the divine word; Judged too marked by Catholicism, other books were added to it, also having a sacred connotation, under a generic expression, "The Volume of the Sacred Law", (and in particular the book of the Constitutions of James Anderson), leaving the lodge free to choose the one it would use.


Jewel(s) : Object of jewellery and thus of adornment, they designate in freemasonry two categories of objects :


Symbolic objects present in the lodge (the list differs according to the period and the lodge - those indicated are the most common):


-Immovable jewels: the Rough Stone, the Pointed Cubic Stone and the Scribing Board;


-and movable jewels: the Square, the Level and the Perpendicular.


Genuine jewellery objects of finery (not obligatory) having a function of recognition or grades with a particular mention for the ring, inheritance of the chivalry with the signet ring.


White: Colours are elements of the Masonic symbolic language; white is affected by different meanings, in particular virginity, purity but also by everything that has to do with God. This colour is used both for apprentices and for high ranks. We find white as the colour of elements of clothing (gloves, shirt, harness, necklace, apron), of objects (balls), in the illustration of certain symbols (the lamb, the eagle) and also in the decoration of Masonic jewellery.


Wheat: Since antiquity, the sheaf of wheat is a symbol of happiness and prosperity; we find this meaning in Freemasonry during the consecration of a temple (with wine and oil); we also evoke wheat in the second degree through the word schibboleth which has the biblical meaning of test to distinguish the traitors (the Ephraimites) from the pure (the Gileadites) (see Book of Judges 12:4-6).


Blue: Colour of the sky, which has become an aristocratic colour, blue has gradually been integrated as one of the colours most used by the Freemasons in their decorations. We usually speak of blue lodges to designate the lodges operating at the first three degrees.


Boaz: Name of a biblical character assigned to the left column at the entrance to the temple of Solomon (cf. 1 Kings 7:13-22); the biblical text defines the symbolic content as "in him is strength". The story of Boaz can be found in the Book of Ruth (Old Testament - Ketuvim ).


Caduceus: It is an object, a stick or a cane, which symbolizes the function of herald, of negotiator, for the one who holds it; it was often a wooden stick (laurel or olive tree) surmounted by two wings and surrounded by two intertwined snakes; it is the attribute of the God Hermes. There is often confusion between the caduceus and the staff of Aesculapius, which has only one snake. The caduceus symbolizes peace; it is not directly represented in Masonic rituals but its meaning permeates Freemasonry through Hermes and his relationship with alchemy.


Chalice or cup : it is a sacred object used in the Bible to sacralize the absorption of a feeling : from sweetness to divine anger through desolation; in Masonic rituals the word is associated with bitterness or forgetfulness or memory or sweetness and the interpretations can be very different; if we refer to the Bible, the feelings conveyed by the cup or chalice are first of all divine feelings that aim to show to the impetrant what he should expect. Thus the cup of bitterness symbolizes first of all divine anger (cf. chapter 51 Prophecy of Isaiah)!


Cane: It is the use of the stick that gives it its symbolic content; today in the French lodges it is used by the master of ceremonies and as such the cane symbolizes the announcement of an event that requires silence, respect and concentration. We find it in the 2nd degree as the attribute of the companion where it symbolizes the journey and the help in discovery (protection and circumspection); in some rites, the deacons use a white stick. 


Canon: metrological term recovered by the folklore of banquets, without symbolic value. Refers to glasses to be filled with wine (the powder).


Square: Geometric form, in the Bible, the square refers to the earth, but it would be more accurate to complete by specifying that it is what is "holy" on earth!


Long square: used with the adjective long: the long square corresponds to a rectangle comprising two squares; according to the bible in relation to the dimensions of the tabernacle. Some have wanted to define it as the rectangle built from the golden section. It is sometimes used to delimit the sacred space between the 3 pillars on which one places the lodge board and or the black and white mosaic paving stones.


Circle: in the Bible, the circle refers to the sky; in reference to the biblical phrase: "He drew a circle on the surface of the waters as a boundary between light and darkness. » . It is mentioned in some rituals in the 3rd grade.


Chain(s): In the plural, in the Bible, the term refers to anything that makes one physically and psychologically captive; in the singular it refers to honour and glory.


Chain of union: virtual object, this term designates the set of Freemasons of a lodge connected to each other by crossed hands (a right hand shaking a left hand) and forming a circle around the long square: this composition symbolizes the fraternity that unites the Freemasons.


Camels: In the Bible they are animals often mentioned as helpers and must be taken care of; they are found in the 13th degree of the REAA where they carry the Magi.


Candlestick: a common object, a support on which candles are placed; in Freemasonry, candlesticks with 3, 5 and 7 branches are most often used. The symbolism of the candlestick is related to that of light and numerology.


Hat: an element of clothing in the headgear family, it symbolizes recognized authority (in Freemasonry it is worn by the masters) and humility when one addresses God; according to the rites it is replaced by the tricorn, the cap, the veil or the skullcap.


Dog: present in certain rituals of the 9th degree where he is associated with Joahben and seems to have helped him in the discovery; symbolizes the help needed to discover!


Figure: two of the meanings of this word must be examined:


First, the number is the graphical representation of the number, so the two symbolisms of numbers and numerals may be different.  This symbolism of the numbers varies according to the coding of the representation of the number; the symbolism of the numbers concerns a vast field; the properly symbolic part is relatively small: it is the printing of the Arabic numerals corresponding to the date on the necklaces of the presidents of the lodges of the high grades; the number symbolizes the degree of the rank of the one who wears it and the corresponding function.


the figure can also be a convention to represent a letter, a number or a word; in freemasonry this was created in the eighteenth century under the term "pigpen" to represent the letters of the alphabet and numbers to camouflage a text by encryption; there is no symbolic content.


Five: It is one of the numbers with symbolic content used in Freemasonry; if in the Bible it symbolizes an indeterminate number, in lodge it symbolizes the rank of companion (with the five steps, the five journeys, etc.); other contents are possible but they are not specifically Masonic.


Key or key: usual object used to secure a place or an object; as in the Bible (key of David, keys of Paradise), in Freemasonry the key is a symbol of authority, power, access to knowledge; it is found in the expressions ivory key in the 4th degree of the REAA and golden key in the 7th degree of the REAA.


Heart: The heart, an anatomical organ, is not represented in Freemasonry but it is referred to in several ways, by bringing the hand or the sword closer to the heart region, considered as a symbol of authenticity, truth and purity.


Boaz Column: Black or white column placed to the left (or right) of the entrance of the Masonic temple, in reference to the temple of Solomon, in connection with the companions. Its symbolism must integrate the 2nd column Jakin, because it is the whole that is demonstrative of the power of the temple of Solomon. Other contents can of course be added.


Column Jakin: Red column placed to the right (or left) of the entrance of the Masonic temple in reference to the temple of Solomon, in connection with the apprentices. Its symbolism must integrate the 2nd column Boaz, because it is the whole that is demonstrative of the power of the temple of Solomon. Other contents can of course be added.


Columns: There are two of them; they are small columns placed on the trays of the overseers in the emulation rite; one, on the tray of the 2nd overseer, in Corinthian style, is surmounted by a terrestrial globe, the other, in Doric style, on the tray of the 1st overseer, is surmounted by a celestial globe. The symbolism of these small columns refers to that of the columns and also to the terrestrial and celestial globes. (see also a detailed study on the site gadlu.info)


Compass: A tool used in many trades, it symbolizes first of all knowledge and as such the domain of the spirit; it is associated with the circle and the sky.


Rooster: Mythical animal, its symbolism is very rich! In Freemasonry, present in the cabinet of reflection, it has first of all the symbolism that the Bible gives it when Jesus predicts Peter's betrayal: vigilance! 


Rope with knots: decorative object, also called a serrated tassel, although the two expressions do not mean the same thing. The symbolism of the rope to give rise to multiple more or less fanciful ramblings. There are three symbolic contents that use it: in the Bible, the silver cord that "ensures the continuity of contact between the 'physical body' that remains in place and the 'body-mind' that moves in space", in the Old Testament, the widow's cord, which refers to the symbolism of the individual cord and the heraldic symbolism of Anne of Bratagne, with the Order of the Cordelier, which has certainly permeated English society. See also a development in the Blog of Montaleau.


Cord: A technical object used both in trades and in clothing, in freemasonry it designates the harness worn by the masters; depending on the colour, it also symbolises certain functions and grades.


Corinthian: Adjective used with the nouns column and order; the Corinthian order is one of the three architectural orders (along with Doric and Ionic) that have marked Greek and Western architecture; in lodge, we refer to the Corinthian pillar that symbolizes Beauty!


Colour: Apart from its decorative aspect, colour has a symbolic content in lodge (see the term for each colour) that could be linked to a symbolism of recognition of ranks and functions. This Masonic symbolism of colours is largely borrowed from the biblical symbolism of colours; we thus define a scale of colours which would represent an evolution in initiation: from Blue we pass to Green then to Yellow, then to Red and finally to White!


Cup of bitterness: (see also chalice) It is an object to which is associated a flavour but also a feeling of disillusionment, discouragement and resentment. These two characteristics are used during initiation when the cup (or chalice) of bitterness is offered to the recipient during the initiation ceremony. This is the same feeling found in most resigning Masonic lodges. As an object, the cup has a symbolism linked to the sacredness of its contents; in other cultures other meanings are possible.


Skull: An element of the human skeleton, the skull is in the Bible associated with Golgotha where Jesus will be crucified. In the lodge we find it as it is in the reflection cabinet and on the desk of the venerable master; in the form of a representation, it appears in the 3rd on a shroud and on aprons at certain degrees: it is associated with humility and also with commitment.


Cross: Object of worship which can have several forms; in the lodges one uses its representation in certain degrees of certain rites the Christian cross, the rose-cross, the cross of Saint Andrew; in the blue lodges one finds the symbol of the cross in the arrangement of the temple with these two axes North-South and East-West. Its symbolic content includes the notions of Affirmation, Orientation and Transformation.


Luminous Delta : Allegorical figure representing a triangle with an eye (of providence) and rays; it is a Christian symbol very widespread in the baroque churches; in the lodge it represents the eye of the GADLU (or knowledge) in the ternary triangle .


Two: A number symbolizing the duality of all things; in lodge its implicit symbolism directs towards the complementarity of the two poles or their opposition.


Motto Liberty Equality Fraternity: This motto is in itself a symbol of the Masonic project.


Doric: adjective used with the nouns column and order; the Doric order is one of the three architectural orders (with the Ionic and Corinthian) that have marked Greek and Western architecture; in lodge, we refer to the Doric pillar that symbolizes the Force!


Water : (in the expression "trial of water" - the word trial must be understood in the sense of feeling) in fact it is the contact of the hand with the water made during the initiation, generally during the first journey; this symbol has several meanings; we can consider that the first meaning is biblical and refers to Jesus Christ!


Scale : utilitarian object, the scale is first of all a biblical symbol of the link with the Eternal, with Jacob's dream (cf. Genesis), the scale is taken up again in the same sense in the 30th degree of the REAA; we find this symbolism of the support of an approach to holiness in the steps. The symbolic content of the ladder also refers to the temple of Solomon (cf. the biblical account).


Elements (The four): The four elements, which we find in the first degree, are Earth, water, Air and Fire; their symbolic content is essentially related to the Bible: Earth, divine creation, the beginning of all things, water, related to Jesus Christ, Air related to the Holy Spirit, and Fire which refers to God himself! The Alchemists complicated this scheme by introducing the principle of the transformation of the prima materia (earth) in a complex process to give birth to the "Great Work"!


Incense: It is used in certain rituals and in certain grades and retains the symbolic meaning that the Bible gives it, a reminder of the Christic experience!


Sword : weapon of war present in the Bible, symbolizing the divine power, it was reappropriated by the Nobility and the Templar hairdressers; its introduction in lodge was attributed to an egalitarian symbolism.


Flaming sword : in the Bible it is a divine attribute. In lodge, it is manipulated by the venerable, symbolizing his or her function as a delegate of divine power.


Ear of wheat : "Wheat"


Square : tool of the mason worker, it always accompanies the compass : the square by the square representing the earth, and the compass by the circle, the sky ; it has also been given multiple complementary meanings .


Star: as for the essence of Masonic symbolism, the initial meaning is of biblical origin; the star is an element of the symbolism of lights that refer to God directly or indirectly.


Flaming Star: it is a particular star, that of the Magi, with a greater intensity of its divine content; it is found in the 2nd degree.


False: agricultural tool, it is present in the cabinet of reflection; with the hourglass and the skull, it symbolizes the bodily death, that is to say of the profane; this symbolism is not strictly speaking biblical; it is the tool of the "great reaper" which one finds in the XIII blade of the tarot.


Window: architectural element of the temple of Solomon cited in the Bible, it is found, screened, either in the interior decoration of the temple in the number of three or in the painting of the first degree lodge. The symbolic content is not very precise and many more or less personal interpretations are given. One might think that the purpose of these three windows is to let the Light in and that their positions to the east, south and west allow us to deduce what will be "lit" in the temple at different times of the day.


Fire: (in the expression "trial by fire" - the word trial must be understood in the sense of feeling) in fact it is the sensation of heat given off by a flame during the initiation, generally during the 3rd journey; this symbol has several meanings; we can consider that the first meaning is biblical and refers to a divine presence!


G: At the beginning of the English lodges, this letter is naturally the initial of God (God in English); for the purpose of "disgression" it was also given a symbolic content with other words beginning with a G: Genius, Generation, Gnosis, Geometry and Gravitation. 


Gloves: Wearing gloves in a lodge symbolizes (with other decorations) that the person concerned is a freemason; the color of the gloves varies according to the degree and the rite practiced (see a development to the corresponding color). Apart from this symbolism of belonging, the gloves also take on the symbolic content assigned to work: wearing gloves means "being at work"! One takes off one's gloves for acts of purity and authenticity (to take an oath for example); the habit taken in some lodges of taking off gloves to give the obole proceeds from this reason.


Sword : weapon used in certain degrees to symbolize atonement and the exercise of the right of vengeance - there is often an interchangeability with the sword .


Grand Architect of the Universe (GADLU): The expression and its acronym symbolize the divine reference; from an agnostic, atheist or non-believer perspective, the content has "broadened" to include less "cut and dried" philosophical notions (the iirational, spirituality, knowledge, etc.).


Pomegranates: These fruits are placed on the two columns on either side of the entrance door to the temple; a symbol used in many cultures; in the Bible, it is the many seeds contained in the fruit that symbolize the union of the community; there is no symbolism proper to masonry!


Hexagram opu Seal of Solomon: graphic design whose origin is relatively recent; the seal of Solomon has become known mainly through writings (including the Koran) giving it magical powers; it is found in lodge in certain situations (eg on the necklace of the VM to the rite of Solomon); its symbolic content is related to the Wisdom transmitted to King Solomon by God.


Hiram: Legendary character who was only attached to Freemasonry in a 2nd stage, as part of a legendary story justifying the 3rd degree. Today, the reference to Hiram is a sign of belonging to Freemasonry!  Hiram also symbolizes rigor in the follow-up of the work and immortality insofar as it "resurrects" in the new (new) masters.sse.s


Serrated tassel: a decorative object whose terminology appeared around 1740 to designate the knotted rope, although the strictly speaking serrated tassel is not a rope but a simple "bouquet" of strands of silk, silver thread or wool; the expression refers to the symbolism of the knotted rope. A very erudite explanation can be read on Montaleau's Blog.


Oil: liquid of animal, vegetable or mineral origin used for domestic purposes; in antiquity, naphtha oil in oil lamps was used for lighting.  In Freemasonry, its use refers to vegetable oil symbolizing a product of the Earth. In reference to the Bible, oil is one of the attributes of Wisdom.


Ionic: adjective used with the nouns column and order; the Ionic order is one of the three architectural orders (along with Doric and Corinthian) that have marked Greek and Western architecture; in Lodge, it refers to the Ionic pillar that symbolizes Wisdom!


Jakin: Name of a biblical character attributed to the right-hand column at the entrance to the temple of Solomon (cf. 1 Kings 7:13-22); the biblical text defines the symbolic content as "stability".  Jakin (or Jachin) was the fourth son of Simeon, founder of the clan of the Jakinites.


Yellow: The symbolic content of this colour is inscribed in the scale of colours at an intermediate level between Green and Red; symbol of Revelation in the Bible, yellow is found both in the luminaries and in the colour of the necklace of certain Grand Masters (his) to symbolise an authority transmitted by the GADLU. In a humorous way, the members of the Order's council are called canaries!


Tears: Tears can be found graphically on the back of the master's aprons or on the 3rd degree drapes to symbolize the affliction triggered by Hiram's murder!  


laurel: a vegetal symbol, practically absent from the Bible, it is present in certain grades to symbolize excellence and success, taking up the Hellenistic tradition.


Letter: Graphic symbol; in Freemasonry, these are Latin or Hebrew letters depending on the rank and rites!  The best known is the letter G!


Lever: Tool used in construction; in the Bible it symbolizes Jesus whose strength and faith allow him to change the world; in Lodge this symbol is used in the 2nd degree!


Lewis: tool used by stonecutters to lift stones; the English term is better known than the French term (louveau) used with two accessories (wolf); its symbolism is close to that of the lever!


She-wolf: a stonecutter's tool used to lift stones; the English term is better known than the French term (louvet) used with two accessories (des louveteau); its symbolism is close to that of the lever!


Louveteau : child of the wolf : term to designate the children of the freemasons.


Lowton: child of the she-wolf: a term for the children of the Freemasons.


Luminaries: there are many luminaries in a Masonic lodge: active luminaries such as candles on the candlesticks or on the pillars or on the supervisors' trays and symbolic luminaries such as the sun and the moon; it is sometimes said (but it is a deviation as we see many) that the VM is a luminary. All this refers to the symbolism of light emitted and reflected!


Moon: planet used as a symbolic object for the title of Great Light (the other two being the Sun and the VM)


Lily (or Lily): a flower that is part of the vegetal symbolism used as a symbol of purity in the Bible, taken up by the Kingdom of France in its heraldry; in freemasonry, it is found in particular on the Corinthian-style pillar!

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