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The Letter "G"

In Freemasonry the letter 'G' stands for GOD but also GEOMETRY. It is found usually within the Square and Compasses on Masonic rings and jewelry in the United States and Canada, but less frequently so in the British Isles and Europe. In Ireland the letter "G" represents a word of importance to those who have served as Master of a lodge.

Source: MasonicDictionary.com

Articles On The Letter "G" On This Page


By Geo. C. Connor, Tennessee.

It is the almost universal custom in these United States to arrange the Square and Compasses, when used as seals or as illustrations, in the following form: The Compasses are extended and laid upon the arms of the Square. Within the extended Compasses is placed the letter "G." I suppose that letter, in that combination, is intended to be the initial letter of the word God, and not of Geometry. The intended symbolism, if indeed any symbolism is meant, is not known to this writer.

This is not the custom in foreign lands, nor was it the custom of the days when that combination began to be made as seals of the lodges. In all the illustrations of this combination of the Square and Compasses made by foreign lodges I have not found the "G" combination. The All-seeing Eye is the most usual, though the globe, the sun, or some other special device or letter are frequently found. It is also frequently found that nothing is inserted between the Compasses.

The symbolism of the combination, with the All-seeing Eye inserted, is quite plain, going back to the older Mysteries. The Square, referring to the earth, and hence to the earthly in man, viz.: his passions and appetites, which are represented by the two arms of the Square, is dominated by the two arms of the Compasses, which refer to the heavens, and hence to the spiritual in man, his reason and the moral sense; symbolizing that through the light of Freemasonry we have subjected our passions and appetites to the control of our reason and our moral sense. The All-seeing Eye symbolizes that oversight of Almighty God necessary to maintain that domination of the spiritual over the earthly, or material.

If there is an instructive symbolism in the way we introduce the letter "G" perhaps it is by using the "G" in the same way as is suggested for the use of the All-seeing Eye. The "G" being used as the initial of two words is liable to be misunderstood, while the eye could not be misinterpreted.

- Source: The Builder - August - 1920


Vol.V July, 1927 No.7

Even a stranger, entering a Masonic Lodge Room, as he may do on a public occasion, must be struck by a mysterious Letter which hangs over the chair of the Master in the East. No one need tell him of its meaning; it is a letter of light and tells its own story.

Yet, no stranger can know its full meaning, much less how old it is. Indeed, few Masons are aware of all that it implies, either as a symbol or history. There it shines, a focus of faith and fellowship, the emblem of the Divine Presence in the Lodge, and in the heart of each Brother composing it.

When the Lodge is opened, the mind and heart of each member should also be opened to the meaning of the Great Symbol, to the intent that its light and truth may become the supreme reality in our lives. When the Lodge is closed, the memory of that Divine initial and its august suggestions ought to be the last thought retained in the mind, to be pondered over.

In English Lodges its meaning and use are made clearer than among us. There it shines in the center of the ceiling of the room, and the Lodge is grouped around it, rather than assembled beneath it. Below it is the checkerboard floor, symbol of the vicissitudes of life, over which hangs the whiter light of the divine guidance and blessing, so much needed in our mortal journey.

Also, in the Degrees its use is more impressive. In the First and Second degrees the symbol is visible in the roof, or sky, of the Lodge Room, like a benediction. In the Third Degree it is hidden, but its presence is still manifest - as every Masons knows - since the light of God is inextinguishable even in the darkest hours. In the Royal Arch it becomes visible again, but in another form, and in another position, not to be named here.

Thus, in the course of the degrees, the Great Letter has descended from heaven to earth, as if to show us the deep meaning of Masonry. In other words, the purpose of initiation is to bring God and Man together, and make them one. God becomes man that man may become God - a truth which lies at the heart of all religion, and most clearly revealed in our own. At the bottom, every form of faith is trying to lay hold of this truth, for which words were never made.

In all the old houses of initiation, as far back as we can go, some one letter of the alphabet stands out as a kind of Divine initial. In the Egyptian Mysteries it was the "Solar Ra," a symbol of the Spiritual Sun shining upon the mortal path. In the Greek Mysteries at Delphi it was the letter "E" - Eta - the fifth letter of the Greek alphabet; five being the symbol of man, as evidenced by the five senses.

Hence also the pentagram, or five-pointed star. In olden times Fellowcraft Masons worked in groups of five, and five Brethren now compose one of their Lodges. Plutarch tells us in the Greek Mysteries. the Letter Eta was made of wood in the First Degree, of bronze in the Second Degree, and of Gold in the Third - showing the advance and refinement of the moral and spiritual nature, as well as the higher value to the truth that was unfolded.

Many meanings and much history are thus gathered into the Great Letter, some of it dim and lost to us now. In our Lodges, and in the thought of the craft today, the Letter "G" stands for Geometry, and also as the initial for our word for God. Now for one, now for the other, but nearly always for both, since all Masonry rests upon Geometry, and in all its lore Geometry is the way of God.

Of the first of these meanings not much needs to be said. In the oldest Charges of the Craft, as in its latest interpretations, it is agreed that Masonry is moral geometry. What was forfelt by philosophers and mystics in ancient times is now revealed to us by the microscope. It is an actual fact that Geometry is the thought- form of God in nature, in the snowflake and in the orbits of the stars.

Since this ancient insight is confirmed by the vision of science, in the most impressive manner the great Letter may stand as the initial of God, not alone by the accident of our language, but also and much more by a faith founded in fact. There is no longer any secret; it cannot be hid, because it is written in the structure of things, in all forms which truth and beauty take.

Nor does Masonry seek to hide the fact that it rests in God, lives in God, and seeks to lead men to God. Everything Masonry has reference to God, every lesson. every lecture; from the first step to the last Degree. Without God it has no meaning, and no mission among men. It would be like the house in the parable, built on the sand which the floor swept away. For Masonry, God is the first truth and the final reality.

Yet, as a fact, Masonry rarely uses the name of God.

It uses, instead, the phrase; "The Great Architect Of The Universe." Of course such a phrase fits into the symbolism of the Craft, but that is not the only - nor, perhaps the chief - reason why it is used. A deep, fine feeling keeps us from using the name of Deity too often, lest it lose some of its awe in our minds.

It is because Masons believe in God so deeply that they do not repeat His Name frequently, and some of us prefer the Masonic way in the matter. Also, we love the Masonic way of teaching by indirection, so to speak; by influence and atmosphere. Masonry, in its symbols and in its spirit, seeks to bring us into the presence of God and detains us there, and that is the wisest way.

In nothing is Masonry more deep-seeing than in the way in which it deals with our attitude toward God, who is both the meaning and the mystery of life. It does not intrude, much less drive, in the intimate and delicate things of the inner life - like a bungler thrusting his hand into our heart-strings.

No, all that Masonry asks is that we confess our faith in a Supreme Being. It does not require that we analyze or define in detail our thought of God. Few men have formulated their profound faith; perhaps no man can do it, satisfactorily. It goes deeper than the intellect, down into the instincts and feelings, and eludes all attempts to put it into words.

Life and love, joy and sorrow, pity and pain and death; the blood in the veins of man, the milk in the breast of woman, the laughter of little children, the coming and goings of days, all the old, sweet, sad human things that make up our mortal life - these are the bases of our faith in God. Older than argument, it is deeper than debate; as old as the home, as tender as infancy and old age, as deep as love and death.

Men lived and died by faith in God long before philosophy was born, ages before theology had learned its letters. Vedic poets and penitential Psalmists were praising God on yonder side of the Pyramids. In Egypt, five thousand years ago, a poet King sang of the unity, purity and beauty of God, celebrating His Presence revealed, yet also concealed, in the order of life.

No man can put such things into words, much less into a hard and fast dogma. Masonry does not ask him to do so. All that it asks is that he tell, simply and humbly, in Whom he puts his trust in life and death, as the source, security and sanction of moral life and spiritual faith; and that is as far as it seeks to go.

One thinks of the talk of the old Mason with the young nobleman who was an atheist, in the Tolstoi story, "War and Peace." When the young count said with a sneer that he did not believe in God, the old Mason smiled, as a mother might smile at the silly saying of a child. Then, in a gentle voice, the old man said:

"Yes, you do not know Him, sir. You do not know Him and that is why you are unhappy. But he is here, He is within me, He is within you, even in these scoffing words you have just uttered. If He is not, we should not be speaking of Him, sir. Whom dost thou deny?" They were silent for a spell, as the train moved on.

Something in the old man touched the count deeply, and stirred in him a longing to see what the old man saw, and to know what he knew. His eyes betrayed his longing to know God, and the old man read his face, and answered his unasked question:

"Yes, he exists, but to know him is hard. It is not attained by reason, but by life. The highest truth is like the purest dew. Could I hold in an impure vessel that pure dew, and judge of its purity? Only by inner purification can we know God."

All these things - all this history and hope and yearning which defies analysis - Masonry tells us in a shining Letter which hangs, up in the Lodge. It is the wisest way; its presence is a prophecy, and its influence extends beyond our knowing, evoking one knows not what memories and meditations. Never do we see that Great Letter, and think of what it implies, that we do not feel what Watts felt:

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope in times to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

- Source: Short Talk Bulletin - Jul. 1927
Masonic Service Association of North America


Vol.XI June, 1933 No.6

The Short Talk Bulletin of July, 1927, bears the title “G”. This popular exposition of the meaning and symbolism of the letter so precious to Freemasons is long out of print, although preserved in many sets of bound volumes and in libraries. This present paper is intended to be supplementary to, and not a recapitulation of, that printed as Number 7, of Volume V of these Bulletins.

“It is merely an accident of the English language that God and Geometry begin with the same letter; no matter what the language or he ritual, the initial of the Ineffable Name and that of the first and noblest of sciences are Masonicaly the same.

“But that is a secret! cries some newly made brother who has examined his printed monitor and finds that the ritual concerning the further significance of the letter “G” is represented only by stars. Aye, the “ritual” is secret, but the “fact,” is the most gloriously public that Freemasonry may herald to the world. One can no more keep secret the idea that God is the very warp and woof of Freemasonry than that he is the essence of all life. Take God out of Freemasonry, and there is, literally, nothing left; it is a pricked balloon, an empty vessel, a bubble which has burst.” (Introduction to Freemasonry.)

That the Letter “G” is not a secret symbol is attested by hundreds of Masonic writers, each of whom has written of it from a different standpoint. Mackey has much to say of it - too much to quote at length, but space may be found for an extract:

“G. The seventh letter of the English, Latin and Romanic alphabets. In the Greek and many other alphabets it is in third place; in the Russian, Wallachian, and some others, it is in fourth; in the Arabic the fifth, and in the Ethiopian the twentieth. In Hebrew it is called Gheemel, is of the numerical value of three, and its significance is “camel.” It is associated with the third sacred name of God, in Hebrew, Ghadol, or in Latin, Magnus, the Mighty. In Freemasonry it is given as the initial of the word God.”

Hutchinson, in his Spirit of Masonry” (1776), says of the sacred letter:

“It is now incumbent on me to demonstrate to you the great significance of the letter “G”, wherewith Lodges and the medals of Masons are ornamented. To apply its significance to the name of God only is depriving it of part of its Masonic import; although I have already shown that the symbols used in the Lodges are expressive of the Divinity’s being the great object of Masonry, as Architect of the World. This significant letter denotes Geometry, which, to artificers, is the science by which all their labours are calculated and formed; and to Masons, contains the determination, definition and proof of the order, beauty and wonderful wisdom of the power of God in His Creation.”

Dr. Frederick Dalcho wrote (1801) as follows:

“The Letter “G,” which ornaments the Mason’s Lodge, is not only expressive of the name of the Grand Architect of the Universe, but also denotes the science of Geometry, so necessary to artists. But the adoption of it by Masons implies no more than their respect for those inventions which demonstrate to the world the power, the wisdom and the beneficence of the Almighty Builder in the works of creation.”

Various attempts have been made to place the date when the Letter “G” first came into the ritual of Speculative Freemasonry. Pichard’s expose, originally published in 1730, does not contain any reference to it. Later editions do include a curious doggerel which is worth repeating here. It is in the usual Question and Answer, or Examiner and Response, form so popular in all ritualistic work in the early days.:

Resp. In the midst of Solomon’s Temple there stands a “G,” A letter for all to read and see; but few there be that understand what means the Letter “G.”

Exam. My Friend, if you pretend to be of this Fraternity, you can forthwith and rightly tell, what means that Letter “G.”

Resp. By sciences are brought to light, bodies of various kinds. Which do appear to perfect sight; but none but males shall know my mind.

Exam. The Right shall.

Resp. If Worshipful.

Exam. Both Right and Worshipful I am, to hail you I have command, that you forthwith let me know, as I you may understand.

Resp. By letters four and science five, this “G” aright doth stand, in due Art and Proportion; you have your answer friend.”

While authorities differ as to just when the letter “G” came into the ritual, all are agreed that the date is not later than 1768; very probably it was earlier.

Authorities are, however, by no means at one on the origin of the symbol then adopted into Speculative Masonry. The choice is wide and the fancy free; if we are willing to admit presumptive testimony, even if it will not satisfy a legal mind as evidence, then the introduction of the symbol into our system is as old as Speculative Masonry - however old that may be!

The Letter “G” as we know it, the Roman “G”, is not a geometrical figure. It is part circle, part oval, part horizontal and vertical lines. It bears internal evidence of being a conventionalizing of a much more severe design.

In the Greek, Gamma, or “G”, the third letter, is a square standing on end with the horizontal arm extending to the right, like a plain block letter “T,” with the left extension of the cross piece omitted. In Hebrew the “G” is a square with the right side omitted; two right angles joined, the horizontal arms extending to the right.

Refer to the doggerel again;

“By letter four and science five, this “G” aright doth stand.” “Letters four” properly refers to J H V H, the tetragrammaton or four-letter word, the Hebrew designation of deity, which we call Jehovah, for want of a more likely rendition of the vowels (omitted in early Hebrew writing).

“Science Five,” of course, is Geometry.

The Pythagoreans reverenced numbers as sacred; geometry was to them the sacred science. It initial letter, Gamma, a square, was especially revered. The Gamma looks like a square used by builders; it was the symbol of the actual, four-sided, or geometrical square, the first whole number square, and therefore, the representative of deity, the four-letter word, the tetragrammaton.

Symbols are easily converted the one into the other and back again. If the Gamma, which appeared like a workman’s square, was a symbol of the geometrical square, which in turn was a symbol of Deity, then, by a simple reconversion looked like Gamma, which in one position looked like the square of the workman, soon came to symbolize the tetragrammaton or four-letter word.

The Greek Gamma was rounded into the Latin “C.” For a while it stood for both the sounds of “g” and “k.” Later (third century B.C.), a slight change was made in the Latin “c” which stood for the soft, or “j” sound - and behold, our modern Roman “G.” Hence, by a path straight to any but mind demanding documentary proof, we place the origin of our “G,” as representing both God and Geometry, as far back as the Pyrhogoreans (sixth century, B.C.).

Another interesting hypothesis - it is hardly more - calls attention to the fact that three geometrical forms appear in the Greek alphabet, as we have seen; Gamma (G) is a square standing on end, the horizontal arm extended to the right. Omicron (O) is a circle, Delta (D) is a triangle.

Writing one letter on top of another to form a monogram is very old. The three Greek letters, Gamma, Omicron and Delta may be combined in a monogram to form a very fair conventionalizing of our letter “G” inside a triangle which looks not unlike our modern square and compasses!

Here is further testimony that the letter “G” and the ancient square, the Greek Gamma, or the Greek monogram of Gamma, Omicron, and Delta, which make a conventional Roman “G” inside a triangle, were connected in ancient Masonic minds. This is credited in the “Bulletin” of the Grand Lodge of Iowa (September, 1932) to Brother John A. Cockburn, noted Masonic writer.

“If further proof of the former identity of the letter “G” and the square were needed, it is to be found in the text of a ritual no longer in use among us. Therein it is recorded that in an attack on our Master a second blow was struck with a square across his breast, “and that on an exhumation a faint resemblance to the letter “G” marked on his left breast was discovered.” (Italics ours - Ed.) The combination of square and circle, or cross and circle (a cross forms two right angles, or squares) appears in a hundred guises in as many religious rites. The interested may recall the “hot cross bun” and the association of the egg, marked with crosses, with Easter; in Yorkshire, the brides cake at weddings was formerly cut into small squares and passed through a wedding ring, as a form of prayer for fertility; circle and square are combined in the wearing of a wedding ring on the fourth finger; the very number “4” itself was originally a circle, being changed to the present conventionalized square and upright after the fifteenth century; children still play the ancient game of noughts and crosses, or “tit-tat-toe,” a combination of circles and squares.

That Freemasonry has in her letter “G” and its connotations a relationship with this ancient association of “letters four and science five -“ that is, of Deity and science or knowledge - is not remarkable - rather it would extraordinary if she had not. In all ages and all religions, man has interwoven together his thought of spirit and matter, his ideas of relative and absolute. Freemasonry’s “G” is but another of these conceptions, expressed in a symbol. If the symbol now used - a Roman “G” - is less fitting for an art concerned especially with squares than was the original Gamma, it at least should receive the reverence due a respectable age. Even those whose ideas of the fitness of things would be better satisfied if our “G” were Gamma, would hardly subscribe to an effort to change now. Mackey, the great Masonic authority, regretted that the Roman “g” ever found its way into our symbolism, and read the “G” as a substitute for the Hebrew Yod, which in turn is a symbol of the tetragrammaton, or four-letter word. Unquestionably the “Lost Word,” the very heart of the Masonic system, is represented by the Yod, but it is a far cry to include also Geometry in that representation. The Greek Gamma, (of which our roman “G” is a substitute) however, did represent both the ineffable Name and the greatest of the sciences. Three Greek letters which spell our name for Deity can be monogrammed to make a modern Roman “G” inside a square and compasses. However corrupt the geometrical form of the Roman “G”, and however much more illuminating it might have been had we continued to use the Greek Gamma of Pythagoras, what we have adopted and made so integral a part of our Masonry that it is in every English speaking Lodge in the world, is far to sacred and familiar ever to change.

Of course Mackey is not lightly to be set aside, yet modern scholarship so differs with the great authority on this point that even those who revere him most, agree that here his genius led him astray.

Sufficient has been said to indicate that the Letter “G” is far more than a mere letter. A symbol of Deity and His Own science, Geometry, it carries us back to the childhood of knowledge; it combines and associates other symbols from which it sprang and the ideas for which they stand. As a symbol “G” is particularly Freemasonry’s own. To the inquiring mind it calls insistently, if always softly, for better understanding and appreciation from Craftsmen.

- Source: Short Talk Bulletin -Jun. 1933
Masonic Service Association of North America

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