Freemasonry is

The builder’s square, used as a Craft symbol, is an approximation of a triangle with its apex downwards and base upwards, which is a very ancient symbol of the soul and psychic constitution of man and is known as the water triangle.

The square is so highly esteemed among speculative masons that it is the jewel set aside for the highest office in our masonic lodges – the Worshipful Master. The square is also a guide to the whole Craft. All masons are expected to square their actions by the virtues inculcated within the square.

The jewel of the Past Master, like that of the Worshipful Master, is essentially the square. In the Grand Lodge of England, the latter bears the square simple, while the former has the figure of Euclid’s 47th proposition added, to constitute what the heralds call a ‘difference.’

The rank of Past Master is a comparatively recent invention and dates from a time when there were many independent Grand Lodges in existence, which accounts for variations. The officers which date from earlier times have with small variations the same jewels in all countries. The origins are uncertain, but it is maintained by the operative guild that this illustrates one of the old masonic trade secrets, namely, the method of forming a right angle by means of three rods of three, four and five units in length. It seems reasonable that the Past Master, being no longer a working mason, should be invested with the proof of an important geometrical proposition, in addition to the square, the jewel of the Master of
a lodge.

In Scotland, the past master’s jewel has the compasses supporting the square. In Ireland, the letter G is placed in the centre. The letter G is in English a synonym for the square, because in the ecclesiastical alphabet of the middle ages, familiar to builders of churches, was a perfect square like the Greek gamma. The square came to be called the letter G as a gloss in early manuscripts because, being the geometrical representation of the name J-H-V-H, it was considered too sacred a word to be uttered before strangers. The identity of the letter G and the square has been masked by the modern method of suspending the square by the right angle. In Ireland, the jewel was formerly suspended by the short bar in the position known as the gallows square, which is precisely the gamma.

According to masonic tradition in the United States, the jewel of a Grand Master was formerly the same as that of a Past Master in Ireland today, and according to the tradition, this jewel was worn by the Grand Masters at the time of King Solomon. The square and compasses enclosing the letter G is used as the general emblem of the Craft in Canada and the United States. In the US, the jewel of a Past Master is a pair of compasses extended to sixty degrees on a quadrant, with a sun in the centre, like the jewel of our Grand Master.

The square is adapted to a plane surface, and belongs to geometry, earth measurement, and the trigonometry which deals with the earth, which the ancients supposed to be a plane. It’s thus an emblem of what concerns the earth and the body. The square is given to the whole body of Freemasonry, because we are all obligated within it, and are consequently bound to act thereon. The square is a constant reminder to the Freemason that he should regulate his action by the masonic rule and line which are laid down in the Volume of the Sacred Law, and that he should never forget that, just as the stone is tried and proved by the application of the square, so, by the application of the eternal and unchanging principles of morality, each action in human life is judged, and its value ascertained. The square is a symbol of Earth; the whole entrance symbolized passing of the soul from earth to heaven.

The square is introduced to the Entered Apprentice as one of the Three Great Lights of Freemasonry and to the Fellowcraft as one of the working tools of his degree. It is also one of the jewels of the lodge, and the special jewel of the Master of the lodge. It is probably the most important tool of a mason, whether operative or speculative, for it connects and more or less includes the level and the plumb rule, and it is the only tool by which the rough ashlar can be prepared and tested. Unless the ashlars are perfect the building cannot be built after any wise plan, or with strength, or with beauty. It is used to form the rude and to prove the perfect mass, and therefore it is of the utmost importance that an implement on which so much depends shall be perfectly correct.

The square is a chevron shape (inverted V), the significance of which is seen in the name given to several old hostelries in England, namely ‘Goat and Compasses.’ The word chevron comes through Spanish and French, from the Latin capriolus, and its significance was the principal characteristic given to the god Pan and the Bacchanalian and other pagan orgies based on that cult. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word first appeared in English in the 14th century. Chevron derives via Middle English and AngloFrench from the vulgar Latin word caprio, meaning ‘rafter (probably due to its resemblance to two adjoining roof beams).’ It is also related to the Latin noun caper, meaning ‘goat,’ again based on the resemblance of a V-shape to a goat’s horns. ‘Caper’ is also an ancestor of Capricorn, the tenth sign of the zodiac, represented by a goat. The resemblance of ‘chevron’ to chèvre, the French word for ‘goat’ and our word for a kind of cheese that comes from goat’s milk, is no coincidence, as that word derives from ‘caper’ as well. The simile with the square and compasses to a mason seems obvious.

The square symbolises morality, defined in our ritual as the duties we owe to our neighbour. The square symbolises things of the earth, and it also symbolises honour, integrity, truthfulness, and other ways we should relate to this world and the people in it.

As a figure, the square teaches regulation of our actions by rule and line, and how we should harmonise our conduct by the prescriptions of virtue. It appears to have been one of the earliest geometrical figures applied to any practicable purpose. Hence it became of great importance with the first masons, which it still retains in our lodges, and is an emblem of morality and justice.

It is an instrument used by practical masons in the erection of purely material buildings which cannot endure forever, but must pass away, in time, as do all physical things built by human hands. Therefore, it fittingly symbolises mortality; that which cannot endure.

The square is an emblem of morality, and instructs us in the golden maxim, ‘do unto others as you would that others should do unto you.’ It teaches us to apply the unerring principles of moral science to every action of our lives, to see that all the motives and results of our conduct shall coincide with the dictates of divine justice, and that all our thoughts, words and deeds shall harmoniously conspire, like the well-adjusted and rightly-squared joints of an edifice, to produce a smooth, unbroken life of virtue.

The square symbol underscores the potential duality in everything and encourages balance; the square is comprised of straight lines, and those fixed lines invite a feeling of stasis, fixation and immutability.

Resting upon the Sacred Volume, the square is a symbol of the human soul generated out of the divine word which underlies it. That soul was created square, perfect, and like everything which proceeded from the Creator’s hand was originally pronounced ‘very good,’ though invested with freedom of choice and capacity for error.

Article extracted from Freemason magazine, September 2019, pages 10 and 11.


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