POINT WITHIN A CIRCLE
As knowledge of the customs of gilds, fraternities, churches, and of popular customs in the Middle Ages is increased it becomes ever more evident that the two Sts. John Days were in everybody's mind the two fixed points of the year, and that where we measure time in our minds from New Year's Day (St. John the Evangelist's Day was equivalent to it) they measured it from two extremes, one the shortest day in winter, the other the longest day in summer.
The early prominence of these two Days in Masonic customs need not there fore mean that the days were chosen for their religious significance; it rather may mean that they were chosen for their convenience as a calendar. It is doubtful if Masons ever thought of the Sts. John as their Patron Saints until a late period; from the records of the Mason Companies (as noted on another page in this Supplement), some of them took St. Thomas as their Patron.
The Monitorial Lectures make it plain that the two Parallel Lines represent the Sts. John Evangelist and Baptist, not in their theological significance but in their sense as a calendar; the days named after those, Saints, rather than the Saints themselves, are denoted.
Since those days were the two extremes of the year, the sun is correctly represented as swinging in its circuit between them, for it cannot move south this side of the fixed point of the day named for the Evangelist nor go north beyond the fixed point of the day represented by the Baptist. The two days are the limits of its circle, therefore the circle is shone set between the lines. The Point Within the Circle represents the year, a year of work, a year out of a man's life; at least it does if the history of its use is a true guide to its symbolic meaning. To follow that guide is not to narrow the symbolism down to a mere fact in the calendar, but is to canalize it, and to hold it fast to its Masonic meaning, lest commentators wander off into regions that have no connection with Freemasonry.
- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry
Articles On The Point Within A Circle On This Page
POINT WITHIN A CIRCLE
This is a symbol of great interest and importance, and brings us into close connection with the early symbolism of the solar orb and the universe, which was predominant in the ancient sun-worship. The lectures of Freemasonry give what modern Monitors have made an exoteric explanation of the symbol, in telling us that the point represents an individual Brother, the circle the boundary line of his duty to God and man, and the two perpendicular parallel lines the patron saints of the Order-Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist.
But that this was not always its symbolic signification, we may collect from the true history of its connection with the phallus of the Ancient Mysteries.
The phallus was among the Egyptians the symbol of fecundity, expressed by the male generative principle. It was communicated from the Rites of Osiris to the religious festivals of Greece. Among the Asiatics the same emblem, under the name of Miriam, was, in connection with the female principle, worshiped as the symbols of the Great Father and Mother, or producing causes of the human race, after their destruction by the deluge.
On this subject, Captain Wilford (Asiatic Researches) remarks "that it was believed in India, that, at the general deluge, everything was involved in the common destruction except the male and female principles, or organs of generation, which were destined to produce a new race, and to re-people the earth when the waters had subsided from its surface. The female principle, symbolized by the moon, assumed the form of a lunette or crescent; while the male principle, symbolized by the sun, assuming the form of the lingam, placed himself erect in the center of the lunette, like the mast of a ship.
The two principles, in this united form, floated on the surface of the waters during the period of their prevalence on the earth; and thus became the progenitors of a new race of men." Here, then, was the first outline of the point within a circle, representing the principle of fecundity, and doubtless the symbol, connected with a different history, that, namely, of Osiris, was transmitted by the Indian philosophers to Egypt, and to the other nations, who derived, as is elsewhere shown, all their rites from the East.
It was in deference to this symbolism that, as Godfrey Higgins remarks (Anecalypsis ii, page 306), circular temples were in the very earliest ages universally erected in cyclar numbers to do honor to the Deity.
In India, stone circles, or rather their ruins, are everywhere found; among the oldest of which, according to Moore (Pancheon, page 242) is that of Dipaldiana, and whose execution will compete with that of the Greeks. In the oldest monuments of the Druids we find, as at Stonehenge and Avebury, the circle of stones. In fact, all the temples of the Druids were circular, with a single stone erected in the center. A Druidical monument in Pembrokeshire, called Y Cromlech, is described as consisting of several rude stones pitched on end in a circular order, and in the midst of the circle a vast stone placed on several pillars. Near Keswick, in Cumberland, says Doctor Oliver (Signs and Symbols, page 174) is another specimen of this Druidical symbol. On a hill stands a circle of forty stones placed perpendicularly, Of about five feet and a half in height, and one stone in the center of greater altitude. Among the Scandinavians, the hall of Odin contained twelve seats, disposed in the form of a circlers for the principal gods, with an elevated seat in the center for Odin. Scandinavian monuments of this form are still to be found in Scania, Zealand, and Jutland. But it is useless to multiply examples of the prevalence of this symbol among the ancients. Now let us apply this knowledge to the Masonic symbol.
We have seen that the phallus and the point within a circle come from the same source, and must have been identical in signification. But the phallus was the symbol of fecundity, or the male generative principle, which by the ancients was supposed to be the sun, they looking to the creature and not to the Creator, because by the sun's heat and light the earth is made prolific, and its productions are brought to maturity. The point within the circle was then originally the symbol of the sun; and as the lingam of India stood in the center of the lunette, so it stands within the center of the Universe, typified by the circle, impregnating and vivifying it with its heat. And thus the astronomers have been led to adopt the same figure as their symbol of the sun.
Now it is admitted that the Lodge represents the world or the universe, and the Master and Wardens within it represent the sun in three positions. Thus we arrive at the true interpretation of the Masonic symbolism of the point within the circle. It is the same thing, but under a different form, as the Master and Wardens of a Lodge. The Master and Wardens are symbols of the sun, the Lodge of the universe, or world, just as the point is the symbol of the same sun, and the surrounding circle of the universe.
To the above observations by Doctor Mackey, Brother Charles T. McClenachan adds these two paragraphs:
"An addition to the above may be given, by referring to one of the oldest symbols among the Egyptians, and found upon their monuments, which was a circle centered by an A U M, supported by two erect parallel serpents; the circle being expressive of the collective people of the world, protected by the parallel attributes, the Power and Wisdom of the Creator. The Alpha and Omega, or the will representing the Egyptian omnipotent God, surrounded by His creation, having for a boundary no other limit than what may come within his boundless scope, his Wisdom and Power. At times this circle is represented by the Ananta (a Sanskrit word meaning eternity), a serpent with its tail in its mouth. The parallel serpents were of the cobra species.
It has been suggestively said that the Masonic symbol refers to the circuits or circumambulation of the initiate about the sacred Altar, which supports the three Great Lights as a central point, while the Brethren stand in two parallel lines."
- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry
"A CERTAIN POINT WITHIN A CIRCLE"
By Bro. William F. Bowe, Past Grand Commander, Georgia
William Fairbanks Bowe was born August 9th, 1866, at Augusta, Georgia, his present home. During his boyhood he attended the private schools in that city of educational advantages and culture, until the age of fourteen years, when on account of his superabundant energy and the eagerness of youth he chose to enter the work-a-day world rather than pursue further his academic studies. He started his career as a true operative Mason. He served his time as a brick-layer and became a finished workman in that and the kindred crafts; was active during youth and early manhood in the civic organization that flourished in that day and time in his city and vicinity He was initiated as an Entered Apprentice, March 11, 1885, in Zerubbabel Lodge, Savannah and was raised in the same Lodge, June 11th, 1885.
He was always active in the local affairs of Masonry, passing through the chairs in both the Blue Lodge, Chapter, and Commandery, at the same time being an active member of Adoniram Council, R. and S. M., and also taking sympathetic interest in the affairs of the Eastern Star; he was a Trustee of the Masonic Hall in the city of Augusta for a period of fourteen years, serving as Chairman of the Building Committee of that body during the period of the erection of the present Masonic Hall. But his activities were not by any means confined to the local field. He was really the organizer and founder, as well as the first elected Master of Richmond Lodge, No. 412 F. & A. M. He served as local secretary of the State of Georgia for the Correspondence Circle of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2,057, in London, since 1897, and has served with distinction and success as the Georgia head of two of the Grand Bodies, the Grand Commandery and the Grand Chapter.
PERMIT me to endeavor to present to your minds an historical view and the physical attributes of an ancient and important Masonic symbol, for the facts of which I am mainly indebted to the researches of Brother Sydney Klein. "A Certain Point within a Circle" is our subject. It is not even designated as the central point of the circle, but simply "A Certain Point within a Circle."
Dr. Anderson, in the Grand Lodge Constitutions of 1723, declares that "Pythagoras instituted a lodge of good Geometricians and communicated to them as a secret" "That amazing proposition which is the foundation of all Masonry." This announcement of very few words contains a number of assertions of very great import. Note them again, "Pythagoras instituted a lodge of good Geometricians and communicated to them as a secret," "That amazing proposition which is the foundation of all Masonry."
The history of those ancient days leads us to believe this to be true and it probably occurred at the time he settled in the Dorian Colony at Cretona, Italy, where the Pythagorians are said to have first coined and used the word "Mathematics."
Like many unhistorical verities the symbol of "A Point within a Circle" comes to us from a past so remote that all knowledge of its origin is lost; and during its sojourning, its meaning and intention had been forgotten, and its real symbolism has been so changed that the interpretation now given to it by our Masonic Monitors is strained and insufficient and does not receive the approval of students of Masonry. Mackey does not give any historical reference to "The Point within a Circle," although he recites that, according to Higgins, "Circular Temples were in the very earliest ages universally erected in Cyclar Numbers to do honor to Deity," and that Oliver relates that the Druids erected a circle of about forty perpendicular stones, and in the center one stone of greater height than the others. To my mind there is no connection between these examples and our symbol of "A Point within a Circle."
McClenachen says there are found on ancient Egyptian monuments the figure of the point within the circle, and on each side of the circle an erect serpent. This figure is interpreted to mean: "The Alpha and Omega or the Egyptian omnipotent God surrounded by his creation, bounded by his limitless wisdom and power"; whether this interpretation is satisfactory or not to the ancient Egyptian I do not know.
It cannot be affirmed that this figure is or is not connected with our emblem, but in either event it does not affect the following historical fact, which is confidently believed to furnish the true explanation of our great Masonic symbol, "A Certain Point within a Circle."
In its travels down the corridors of time, the form of the emblem has been only slightly modified or added to; so the grave difficulty before us is to discover the teachings of the symbol, and I may here state my belief that any present day symbol of Masonry that is not understood, no matter how incongruous it may now appear, carries or conceals from the distant past some distinguishing element of Masonry.
I shall only present one historical view of such a symbol: "A Certain Point within a Circle." In order that you may easily conceive the ideas which I will attempt to convey, I must ask you to believe a proposition upon which this view is largely predicated: namely, that the great secret of the ancient Mason was the knowledge of how to make a perfect square without the possibility of error.
Time will not permit the giving of reasons calculated to establish the probability of this foundation, and many eminent Masonic students do not believe that the reasons given are sufficient to establish it as a fact; but I assure you that a strong argument can be made in support of the contention that the Great Secret of ancient Masonry was the knowledge of how to make a perfect square without the possibility of error, which I shall hereafter designate as the "Knowledge of the Square."
Brother Sydney Klein, in his wonderful exposition of "The Great Symbol," expresses his belief that this "Knowledge of the Square" was referred to by Dr. Anderson in the Grand Lodge constitution of 1723 as that "Amazing proposition which is the foundation of all Masonry."
So, for the purpose of this discussion, it is assumed that all of my readers believe (temporarily at least) that the knowledge of how to make a perfect square without the possibility of error was a great Masonic secret known only to Masters of lodges and handed down by them to their successors with scrupulous secrecy, and it is worthy of consideration whether or not this knowledge was the secret intrusted to a new elected Master before he was inducted into the chair of K. S.
This knowledge of making perfect squares was known to the ancients; for Pamphalia, a female historian of the time of Nero, says that, "Thales, the Tutor of Pythagoras, learned in Egypt how to describe a right angled triangle in a Circle." Appolodorus says the same of Pythagoras. Plato, Proclus and many other ancient Greek writers refer to the right angled triangle as being Divine. The right angle of the square symbolizing the perfection of Deity. Your imagination may revel in the thought how ancient is the common Masonic saying, "To act by the square"--it means now, as foreshadowed by Plato, to live according to Divine Law.
It is important that during this exposition you should remember the fact that our ancient brethren probably approached the proposition of constructing a perfect square, with feelings of awe, because of their belief that the process was a sacred mystery, or a sort of divination.
In Europe during the Dark Ages, say from A. D. 700 to 1300, the art of Geometry was entirely lost; but the knowledge of how to make a perfect square within a circle was not lost.
This Truth is worthy of an essay as to whether or not the "Knowledge of the Square" was preserved by Freemasonry during those dark days when the intellect of men had become depressed almost to oblivion.
I say advisedly that the knowledge was not lost, because there is preserved to us a doggerel rhyme called the Stone Mason's speech. The oldest copy is of date about A. D. 1500, but it is evidently the copy of an older original. With this long prelude I am now ready to endeavor to prove to you "that the point within a circle" was a significant symbol at a period at least previous to the year A. D. 1500.
"The Stone Mason's Speech" is, literally translated, as follows: What in stone-craft to see is
Which no error nor bypath is But straight as a line; a line Through drawn the Circle, overall Thus findest thou three in four stand. And thus through one in the center go Also again out of the center in three Through the four in the Circle quite free The stone-craft and all the things To investigate makes the learning easy A point which in the Circle goes Which in the Square and three angles stand Hit ye the point then have ye done And come out of Need, Fear and Danger Herewith have ye the whole science Understand ye it not: so is it in vain All which ye learnt have; Of that bewail yourselves soon, therewith depart.
Now this speech almost certainly refers to the "Point within a Circle," because every direction given in it is applicable to that symbol, and the result together with every fact in the speech is in exact accord with the demonstration which I will now give.
First, I establish the point (Figure 1) and with it as a center I describe the circumference and we have the symbol of the "Point within a Circle."
The speech directs: "A line through drawn the circle," draw line A-C through the center. "Overall thus findest thou three in four stand."
That is to say you must draw lines on three out of four sides; each line the length of the diameter, or three lines equal to A-C on three sides (draw lines number one, two and three), "And thus through One in the center go."
That is to say, from the center of line No. 1 draw a line (draw a line from the center of side No. 1 as A-B). "Also again out of the center which is in three," that is to say from the center of side three draw a line (draw a line from the center of side three as C-B). "Through the Four in the circle quite free."
That is to say the lines should be drawn to the circumference of the circle towards the side four which is quite free.
"The stonework-craft and all the things To investigate makes the learning easy."
That is to say, any investigation into the matters pertaining to stone-craft are made easy by this "Knowledge of the Square."
"Now observe the result according to the speech, "A point which in the circle goes, which in the square and three angles stands, gives you the whole science and you cannot go wrong." That is to say the point within the circle is within the square of the two parallel lines and also within the triangle formed by the three angles, and you have accomplished the whole science, and therefore cannot go wrong.
This is an evident fact because no matter in what direction you draw the lines from A and C, provided they are exactly joined at the circumference of the circle, they will form a right angle or a perfect square, (see lines A-E and C-E) and, therefore, you can form an infinite number of right angles within the circle, every one of which will be a perfect square, and thus is accomplished the "Knowledge of the Square."
First a straight line, Second a square, Third a perfect knowledge of the square. As the speech further sums up the result:
"Hit ye the point then have ye done And come out of Need, Fear and Danger." Perpendicular, square and center.
A right angled triangle invested with sacredness by our ancient brethren as containing within its perfect angle the attributes of Deity formed not on the center, but by the aid of the "Point within a Circle."
Now if this explanation of our subject is plausible or even possible, let us endeavor to find a reason why the meaning of so important a symbol could be lost.
We have assumed that this "Knowledge of the Square" was confined to the Masters of lodges and whilst this knowledge was of great importance to the Operative Mason it would be of little practical use to a speculative Mason. In time the explanation would be disused and the meaning of the ritual be lost--the same as the stone mason's speech is preserved, but its teachings disused and its intention forgotten.
Notwithstanding our loss of the symbolism of the square, we preserve the square as one of the Great Lights and as an emblem peculiarly belonging to the Master.
Our ritual says:
The Bible is dedicated to God (for a very good reason) .
The compasses to the Craft (for a very good reason) . And the square to the Master for the totally inadequate reason, "That it is the emblem of his office."
After this demonstration we surely are compelled to believe that the square is dedicated to the Master for a far more noble and important purpose; and as a suggestive thought, in this connection, I leave with you a question: Is it not likely that the square may have originally been the emblem suspended over the Master's chair and because it is the exact shape of the Greek letter "Gamma" or "G," that in the evolution of time the emblem finally became changed from the square to the letter "G" ?
In the early days Masonry was patronized by the controlling minds of the monasteries and they attached a religious meaning to their principal emblems, and they would be certain to do so to their symbols whose meaning was lost; and the concept would be natural to them that the point within the circle represented the G.A.O.T.U. whose horizon of operative power is a circle of infinite extent, and likewise we derive from this solution of that "amazing proposition" the speculative theory that the infinite number of perfect squares generated by the power of "A certain Point within a Circle" must be emblematic of the infinite number of perfect attributes of Deity, whose all pervading power is symbolized by the "Point within the Circle."
Now in this representation, according to this method, we have the point within a circle, but instead of the Holy Bible on top we have the illustration of that "Amazing proposition which is the foundation of all Masonry"; but can we give any reason at all why these two perpendicular lines are characterized by us as representing the two Saints John?
As a thought that may induce some brother to make an investigation intended at least to disprove it, I suggest that in order for the ancient Mason to demonstrate "The Knowledge of the Square" he needed to use two straight edges, and in the sorcery of the operation they possibly were stood one on each side of the circle the same as these two perpendicular lines would be drawn.
And likewise, as has long been the custom of operative craftsmen to give names to certain implements of the craft, it is possible that during the construction of the Cathedrals by the building societies of Masons, that these two straight edges may have been named by them "St. John," especially so, since the operation of making perfect squares was a hidden mystery, it naturally would be accomplished with some element of mysticism.
Among present day geometricians the solution of this knowledge of the square is very simple, but even to this day few operative craftsmen are familiar with the process, although the reverse of the proposition is readily known to all pattern makers, and yet, strange as it may seem, when the pattern maker's task is submitted to the geometrician it is equally incomprehensible to him as the knowledge of the square is to the operative craftsmen.
THE PATTERN MAKER'S PROBLEM
In order to demonstrate this I will make a physical exhibit. We have here a wheel six inches in diameter. It is desired to cut a mortise in a block of wood or stone or metal so that one-half of the wheel will perfectly fit the mortise. The problem is how to cut out the material with a perfect certainty that the wheel will accurately fit. I have here for convenience a piece of wood in which is a mortise six inches wide and four inches deep. I will fill this mortise with plastic modellers' clay, because, of course, if we accurately cut out the clay we could do the same with either metal, wood or stone.
The distance A-B is six inches, being the same as the diameter of the wheel.
By placing the two outside edges of a square on the extremities of the proposed mortise, say points A and B, with the corner or outside angle of the square "C" as a pointer to guide the cutting, let the square slide around its sides resting continuously on the two points A and B, and it will be found that the point or outside angle of the square will perform a true semicircumference belonging to a diameter of six inches, (see Figure 3), and by testing our mortise with the six inch wheel we find that the fit is perfect. Having made a perfect semi-circle by the use of the square it is readily apparent that the same operation will make the remaining semi-circle, and by this means we can construct a perfect circle. For convenience I have already prepared the remaining semi-circle, and by joining them together we have the perfect figure as shown in Figure 4.
But the point within the circle is not seen for the circumference was made by the square and not by the compasses; and although the point is invisible, the Truth is self evident that it is there within the circle absolute and perfect on the center.
Now it has been demonstrated by the "Knowledge of the Square" that an infinite number of right angles or perfect squares can be drawn within the circle, bounded by two parallel lines, and touching the circumference.
And we now also know from the explanation of the pattern maker's problem that if the edges of a perfect square are kept in touch with the two parallel lines and caused to occupy an infinite number of locations, that the extreme angle of the square originally thought to contain the perfection of Deity, and (in this proposition) always under control of the power of the center will describe the line of a true circle, which will always be the circumference of the "Point within a Circle," and both of these propositions are true no matter how great the distance between the two parallel lines.
Therefore, it is obvious that if the distance of the two parallel lines is infinite then the circumference is also infinite and the point within the circle is always on the center.
The existence of Deity has been beautifully defined by Hermes Trismegitus, an Egyptian of the period 15 B.C., who says: "God is a circle whose center is everywhere, but whose circumference is nowhere to be found." This abstruse thought can be analyzed and proven to be conformable to our present exposition of "A Certain Point within a Circle."
I will not invade the vast field of speculative thought borne upon our minds by the demonstration of that "Amazing proposition," although, a contemplation of the process of creating a perfect circle by means of the square alone, naturally leads our minds to inquire into the speculative properties of the square. I will be content merely to continue the physical process or principle to its logical conclusion.
We have proven that if the edges of the square are operated as described against any two points that the right angle of the square will describe a circumference line belonging to a diameter, at the extremities of which those two points are located.
Now, if during the process of making this circumference the right angle of the square is caused to rotate into an infinite number of planes, that is to say if the square is caused to move against the points and is also at the same time rotated in such manner that its perfect angle will pass-through every point possible for it to do, then every such point will be in a circumference line belonging to a diameter equal in length to the distance between these two points.
It will be observed that in whatever direction the right angle of the square is moved even if during its rotations the edges of the square are continually moved against the two points A and B, that the distance from the angle of the square to the center of the circumference is always the same.
It is therefore obvious that the perfect angle of the square defining similar circumferences in infinite planes will inevitably produce the surface of a sphere.
Which is to say, that it is proven by this operation that while the edges of the square are moved against the two points and the right angle of the square at the same time is rotated into every possible place every such place will be exactly the same distance from the center, therefore the right angle or extreme point of the square during this operation will necessarily produce the surface of a perfect sphere.
Hence we derive the geometric fact that any two lines drawn from the extremities of every diameter of a sphere and exactly joined at the surface of the sphere will form a right angle or perfect square (Fig. 5) and we learn again the "Knowledge of the Square."
A - A Extremities B - B of C - C Diameters
A - D - A Right angles B - A - B of C - F - C Perfect squares
These Truths impress upon our minds the concept that if the central points of the parallel lines are an infinite distance apart, then every right angled triangle or square formed within the circle or within the sphere, by the demonstration of that "Amazing proposition," will be infinite.
Also that the circumference line generated by the right angle of the square whose edges are in touch with those distant points, as demonstrated by the pattern maker's problem, will be infinite. But our wonder is yet more astoundingly excited when we conceive the great Truth:
That the sphere designed and created by the evolutions of the perfect square constantly in touch with those two points of infinite distance, directed by the power of the center will be infinity itself and the invisible point within this sphere will be absolute and perfect.
- Source: The Builder July 1918
POINT WITHIN A CIRCLE
“There is in every regular and well governed Lodge, a certain point
within a circle, embordered by two parallel perpendicular lines. . . . “
Familiar to every Mason, this ancient symbol is too often considered
merely as one of many, instead of what it really is, among the most
illuminating of the entered Apprentice’s Degree.
It is particularly important not only for its antiquity, the many
meanings which have been and may be read from it by the student, but
because of the bond it makes between the old Operative Craft and the
modern Speculative Masonry we know.
No man may say when, where or how the symbol began.
From the earliest dawn of history a simple closed figure has been
man’s symbol for deity - the circle for some peoples, the triangle
for others, and a circle or a triangle with a central point, for
still others. The closed figure, of course, represents the
conception of Him Who has neither beginning or ending; the triangle
adds to this the reading of a triune nature. It is to be noted that
the Lesser Lights form a triangle placed in our Lodges in that
orientation which expresses Wisdom, Strength and Beauty. In some
Jurisdictions a Lodge closes with the brethren forming a circle about
the Altar, which thus becomes the point, or focus of the Supreme
Blessing upon the brethren.
Nor must we consider that a reading which is wholly beyond the
monitorial explanation of the point within a circle is beyond Masonic
conception. A symbol may have many meanings, all of them right, so
long as they are not self-contradictory. As the point within a
circle has had so many different meanings to so many different
people, it is only to be expected that it have meanings for many
We find it connected with sun worship, the most ancient of religions;
ruins of ancient temples devoted both to sun and fire worship are
circular in form, with a central altar, or “point” which was the Holy
of Holies. The symbol is found in India, in which land of mystery
and mysticism its antiquity is beyond calculation. Of its presence
in many of the religions of the East, Wilford says (Asiatic
“It was believed in India that at the general deluge everything was
involved in the common destruction except the male and female
principles or organs of generation, which were destined to produce a
new race and to repeople the earth when the waters had subsided from
its surface. The female principle, symbolized by the moon, assumed
the form of a lunette, or crescent, while the male principle,
symbolized by the sun, assumed the form of the lingam (or phallus)
and placed himself erect in the center of the lunette, like the mast
of a ship. The two principles in this united form floated on the
surface of the waters during the period of their prevalence on the
earth, and thus became the progenitors of a new race of men.”
This is the more curious and interesting when a second ancient
meaning of the symbol is considered - that the point represents the
sun and the circle the universe. Indeed, this meaning is both modern
and ancient, for a dot in a small circle is the astronomical symbol
for the sun, and the derivation of this astronomical symbol marks its
Masonic connection. The Indian interpretation makes the point the
male principle, the circle the female; the point became the sun and
the circle the solar system which ancient peoples thought was the
universe because the sun is vivifying, the life-giving principle, for
all the lives.
The two parallel lines, which modern Masonry states represents the
two Holy Sts. John, are as ancient as the rest of the symbol, and
originally had nothing to do with the “two eminent Christian Patrons
of Masonry.” It is a pretty conception, but of course utterly
without foundation. The Holy Sts. John lived and taught many
hundreds of years before any Masonry existed which can truly be
called by that name. If this is distasteful to those good brethren
who like to believe that King Solomon was Grand Master of a Grand
Lodge, devised the system and perhaps wrote the ritual, one must
refute them with their own chronology, for both the Holy Sts. John
lived long “after” the wise King wrought his “famous fabric.”
The two perpendicular parallel lines are sometimes thought to have
been added to the symbol of the point within a circle as a sort of
diagram or typification of a Lodge at its most solemn moment, the
point being the brother at the Altar, the circle the Holy of Holies,
and the two lines the brethren waiting to help bring the initiate to
But it is obviously a mere play of fancy; the two lines against the
circle with the point date back to an era before Solomon. On early
Egyptian monuments may be found the Alpha and Omega, or symbol of
God, in the center of a circle embordered by two upright serpents,
representing the Power and the Wisdom of the Creator.
Mackey reads into the symbol an analogy to the Lodge by observing
that as the Master and Wardens represent the sun in three positions
in the Lodge, and as the Lodge is a symbol of the world (or universe)
the circle can be considered as representing the Lodge, the point the
sun at meridian, and the two lines, the Wardens or sun at rising and
This also seems to many students to be a mere coincidental reading.
That derivation of the symbol which best satisfied the mind as to
logic and appropriateness, students found in the operative craft.
Here is more to encourage than in all the researches into ancient
religions and the symbolism of men long forgotten.
Fully to understand just how the point within a circle came into
Speculative Masonry by way of Operative Craftsmanship, it is
necessary to have some mental picture of the times in which the
Craftsmen of the early middle ages lived and wrought.
The vast majority of them had no education, as we understand the
word. They could neither read nor write - unimportant matters to
most, first because there were no books to read, second because there
was nothing which they needed to write! Skilled craftsmen they were,
through long apprenticeship and careful teaching in the art of
cutting and setting stone, but except for manual skill and cunning
artifice founded on generations of experience, they were without
This was not true of the leaders - or, as we would call them - the
Masters. The great Cathedrals of Europe were not planned and
overseen by ignorance. There, indeed, knowledge was power, as it is
now, and the architects, the overseer, the practical builders, those
who laid out the designs and planned the cutting and the placing of
the stones - these were learned in all that pertained to their craft.
Doubtless many of them had a knowledge of practical and perhaps of
Certain parts of this theoretical knowledge became diffused from the
Master Builders through the several grades of superintendents,
architects, overseer and foreman in charge of any section of the
work. With hundreds if not thousands of men working on a great
structure, some sort of organization must have been as essential then
as now. And equally essential would be the overseeing of the tools.
Good work cannot be done with faulty instruments. A square and
upright building cannot be erected with a faulty square, level or
The tools used by the cathedral builders must have been very much
what ours are today; they had gavel, mallet, setting maul and hammer;
they had chisel and trowel as we have. And of course, they had
plumb, square, level and twenty-four inch gauge to “measure and lay
out their work.”
The square, the level and the plumb were made of wood - wood, cord,
and weight for the plumb and level; wood alone for the square.
Wood wears when used against stone. Wood warps when exposed to water
or damp air. The metal used to fasten the two arms of the square
together would rust and perhaps bend or break. Naturally, the
squares would not indefinitely stay square. Squares had constantly
to be checked for the right-angledness. Some standard had to be
adopted by which a square could be compared, so that, when Operative
Masons’ squares were tried by it they would not “materially err.”
The importance of the perfect right angle in the square by which
stones were shaped can hardly be over estimated. Operative Masonry
in the Cathedral building days was largely a matter of cut and try,
of individual workmen, or careful craftsmanship. Quality production,
micrometer measurement, interchangeabilty of parts were words which
had not yet been coined; ideas for which they stand had not even been
invented. All the more necessary, then, that the foundation on which
all the work was done should be as perfect as the Masters knew how to
make it. Cathedral builders erected their temples for all time - how
well they built, a hundred glorious structures in the Old World
testify. They built well because they knew how to check and try
Today any school boy knows the simple “secret of the square” which
was then the closely guarded wisdom of the Masters alone; toady any
school boy can explain the steam engine which was a wonder two
hundred years ago, and make and use a wireless which was a miracle
scarce ten years gone by. Let us not wonder that our ancient
Operative brethren thought their secret of a square so valuable; let
us rather wonder that in time in which the vast majority of men were
ignorant of mathematics, so many must have known and appreciated this
simple, this marvelous, geometrical secret.
Lay out a circle - any size - on a piece of paper.
With a straight edge draw a line across through its center. Put a
dot on the circle, anywhere. Connect that dot with the line at both
points where it crosses the circle. Results - a perfect right
Draw the circle of whatever size you will; place a dot on the
circumference where you will, it makes no difference. So be it. So
be it the lines from the dot meet the horizontal line crossing the
circle through its center and they will form a right angle.
This was the Operative Mason’s secret - knowing how “to try his
square.” It was by this means that he tested the working tools of
the Fellows of the Craft; he did so often enough, and it was
impossible either for their tools or their work “to materially err.”
From this, also, comes the ritual used in the lodges of our English
brethren, where they “open on the center.” Alas, we have dropped the
quaint old words they use, and American Lodges know the “center” only
as the point within a circle. The original line across the center
has been shifted to the side and became the “two perpendicular
parallel lines” of Egypt and India and our admonitions are no longer
what they must have once been; . . . “while a mason circumscribes
his “square” within these points, it is impossible that “it” should
Today we only have our Speculative meaning; we circumscribe our
desires and our passions within the circle and the lines touching on
the Holy Scriptures. For Speculative Masons who use squares only in
the symbolic sense such an admonition is of far greater use than
would be the secret of the square as was known to our ancient
But - how much greater becomes the meaning of the symbol when we see
it as a direct descent from an Operative practice! Our ancient
brethren used the point within a circle as a test for the rectitude
of the tools by which they squared their work and built their
temporal buildings. In the Speculative sense, we used it as a test
for the rectitude of our intentions and our conduct, by which we
square our actions with the square of virtue. They erected
Cathedrals - we build the “House Not Made With Hands.” Their point
within a circle was Operative - our is Speculative!
But through the two - point in a circle on the ground by which an
Operative Master secretly tested the square of his fellows - point
within a circle as a symbol by which each of us may test, secretly,
the square of his virtue by which he erects an Inner Temple to the
Most High - both are Masonic, both are beautiful. The one we know is
far more lovely that it is a direct descendant of an Operative
practice the use of which produced the good work, true work, square
work of the Master Masons of the days that come not back.
Pass it not lightly. Regard it with the reverence it deserves, for
surely it is one of the greatest teachings of Masonry, concealed
within a symbol which is plain for any man to read, so be it he has
Masonry in his heart.