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As noted in the paragraph on “quarry” the Latin quad ratum was a square. Quatuor meant “four;” from it we have square, four, quad, quadrangle, squadron, etc. In geometry I a square is a four-sided straight-lined figure having all its sides equal and all its angles right angles; and since early carpenters and Masons had to use an instrument for proving the angles to be right, they fell into the habit of calling that instrument a square. In Ma-sonry the square is used in at least three distinct senses; as a sharp instrument, as a working tool, and as a symbol, the last named when used with the compasses on the Holy Bible. As a symbol it refers to the earth, for so long a time supposed to be square in shape; as a working tool, it refers to all those forces by means of which one prepares himself to fit into his own proper place in the Brotherhood, like a Perfect Ashlar in a wall.

- Source: 100 Words in Masonry


This is one of the most important and significant Symbols in Freemasonry. As such, it is proper that its true form should be preserved. French Freemasons have almost universally given it with one leg longer than the other, thus making it a carpenter's square American Freemasons, following the incorrect delineations of Brother Jeremy L. Cross, have, while generally preserving the equality of length in the legs, unnecessarily marked its surface with inches; thus making it an instrument for measuring length and breadth which it is not. It is simply the trying square of a stone-mason, and has a plain surface; the sides or legs embracing an angle of ninety degrees, and is intended only to test the accuracy of the sides of a stone, and to see that its edges subtend the same angle.

In Freemasonry, the square is a symbol of morality. This is its general signification, and is applied in various ways:

  1. It presents itself to the neophyte as one of the Three Great Lights.
  2. To the Fellow Craft as one of his Working-tools.
  3. To the Master Mason as the official emblem of the Master of the Lodge.

Everywhere, however, it inculcates the same lesson of morality, of truthfulness, of honesty. So universally accepted is this symbolism that it has gone outside of the Order, and has been found in colloquial language communicating the same idea. Square, says Halliwell, Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, means honest, equitable, as in "square dealing." To play upon the square is proverbial for to play honestly. In this sense the word is found in the old writers.

As a Masonic symbol, it is of very ancient date, and was familiar to the Operative Masons. In the year 1830, the architect, in rebuilding a very ancient bridge called Baal Bridge, near Limerick, in Ireland, found under the foundation-stone an old brass square, much eaten away, containing on its two surfaces the following inscription, the U being read as V: I. WILL. STRIUE. TO. LIUE.-WITH. LOUE. & CARE.- UPON. THE. LEUL.-BY. THE. SQUARE., and the date 1517. The modern Speculative Freemason will recognize the idea of living on the level fled by the square This discovery proves, if proof were necessary, that the familiar idea was borrowed from our Operative Brethren of former days.

The square, as a symbol in Speculative Freemasonry, has therefore presented itself from the very beginning of the revival period. In the very earliest catechism of the eighteenth century, of the date of 1725, we find the answer to the question, "How many make a Lodge?" is "God and the Square, with five or seven right or perfect Masons." God and the Square, religion and morality, must be present in every Lodge as governing principles.

Signs at that early period were to be made by squares and the Furniture of the Lodge was declared to be the Bible, Compasses, and Square.

In the public lecture of Brother Herbert A. Giles, Worshipful Master of Ionic Lodge, No. 1781 at Amoy, delivered in 1880 and entitled Freemasonry in China, says:

From time immemorial we find the Square and Compasses used by Chinese Writers to symbolize precisely the same phases of moral conduct as in our system of Freemasonry. The earliest passage known to one which bears upon the subject is to be found in the Book of history embracing the period reaching from the twenty-fourth to the seventh century before Christ. There in an account of a military expedition we read:

"Ye officers of government, apply the Compasses!"

In another part of the same venerable record a Magistrate is spoken of as:

" A man of the level, or the level man"

The public discourses of Confucius provide us with several Masonic allusions of a more or less definite character. For instance. when recounting his own degrees of moral progress in life, the Master tells us that only at seventy-five spears of age could he venture to follow the inclinations of his heart without fear of " transgressing the limits of the Square." this would be 481 B.C. belt it is in the works of his great follower, Mencius, who flourished nearly two hundred years later, that we meet with a fuller and more impressive Masonic phraseology. In one chapter we are taught that just as the most skilled artificers are unable, without the aid of the Square and Compasses to produce perfect rectangles or perfect circles, so must all men apply these tools figuratively to their lives, and the level and the marking-line besides, if they would walk in the straight and even paths of wisdom and keep themselves within the bonds of honor and virtue. In Book iv we read:

"The Compasses and Square are the embodiment of the rectangular and the round, just as the prophets of old were the embodiment of the due relationship between man and man" In Book vi we find these words:

The Master Mason, in teaching his apprentices makes use of the Compasses and the Square Ye who are engaged in the pursuit of wisdom must also make use of the Compasses and the Square. In the Great Learning, admitted on all sides to date from between 300 to 400 years before Christ, in Chapter 10, we read that a man should abstain from doing unto others what he would not they should do unto him, ' this," adds the writer, is called the principle of acting on the Square. " In all rites and in all languages where Freemasonry has penetrated, the square has preserved its primitive Signification as a symbol of morality.

- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry


The Holy Bible lies open upon the Alter of Masonry, and upon the Bible lie the Square and Compasses. They are the three Great Lights of the Lodge, at once its Divine warrant and its chief working tools. They are symbols of Revelation, Righteousness and Redemption, Teaching us that by walking in the light of Truth, and obeying the Law of Right, the Divine in man wins victory over the earthly. How to live is the one important matter, and he will seek far without finding a wiser way than that shown us by the Great Lights of the Lodge.

The Square and Compasses are the oldest, the simplest and the most universal symbols of Masonry. All the world over, whether as a sign on a building, or a badge worn by a Brother, even the profane know them to be emblems of our ancient Craft. Some years ago, when a business firm tried to adopt the Square and Compasses as a Trade- Mark, the Patent Office refused permission, on the ground, as the decision said, that "There can be no doubt that this device, so commonly worn and employed by Masons, universally recognized as existing; whether comprehended by all or not, is not material to this issue." They belong to us, alike by the associations of history and the tongue of common report. Nearly everywhere in our Ritual, as in the public mind, the Square and Compasses are seen together. If not interlocked, they are seldom far apart, and the one suggests the other. And that is as it should be, because the things they symbolize are interwoven. In the old days when the earth was thought to be flat and square, the Square was an emblem of the earth, and later, of the earthly element in man. As the sky is an arc or a circle, the implement which describes a Circle became the symbol of the heavenly, or sky spirit in man. Thus the tools of the builder became the emblems of the thoughts of the thinker; and nothing in Masonry is more impressive than the slow elevation of the compasses above the Square in the progress of the Degrees. The whole meaning and task of life is there, for such as have eyes to see.

Let us separate the Square from the Compasses and study it alone, the better to see its further meaning and use. There is no need to say that the Square we have in mind is not a Cube, which has four equal sides and angles, deemed by the Greeks a figure of perfection. Nor is it a the square of the carpenter, one leg of which is longer than the other, with inches marked for measuring. It is a small, plain Square, unmarked and with legs of equal length, a simple try-square used for testing the accuracy of angles, and the precision with which stones are cut. Since the try-square was used to prove that angles were right, it naturally became an emblem of accuracy, integrity and rightness. As stones are cut it fit into a building, so our acts and thoughts are built together into a structure of Character, badly or firmly, and must be tested by a moral standard of which the simple try- square is a symbol.

So, among Speculative Masons, the tiny try-square has always been a symbol of morality, of the basic rightness which must be the test of every act and the foundation of character and society. From the beginning of the revival in 1717 this was made plain in the teaching of Masonry, by the fact that the Holy Bible was placed upon the Altar, along with the Square and Compasses. In one of the earliest catechisms of the Craft, dated 1725, the question is asked: "How many make a Lodge?" The answer is specific and unmistakable: "God and the Square, with five or seven right and perfect Masons." God and the Square, Religion and Morality, must be present in every Lodge as its ruling Lights, or it fails of being a just and truly Constituted Lodge. In all lands, in all rites where Masonry is true to itself, the Square is a symbol of righteousness, and is applied in the light of faith in God.

God and the Square - it is necessary to keep the two together in our day, because the tendency of the times is to separate them. The idea in vogue today is that morality is enough, and that faith in God - if there be a God - may or may not be important. Some very able men of the Craft insist that we make the teaching of Masonry too religious. Whereas, as all history shows, if faith in God grows dim morality becomes a mere custom, if not a cobweb, to be thrown off lightly. It is not rooted in reality, and so lacks authority and sanction. Such an idea, such a spirit - so wide-spread in our time, and finding so many able and plausible advocates - strikes at the foundation, not only of Masonry, but of all ordered and advancing social life. Once men come to think that morality is a human invention, and not a part of the order of the world, and the moral law will lose both its meaning and its power. Far wiser was the old book entitled "All in All and the Same Forever," by John Davies, and dated 1607, though written by a non-Mason, when it read reality and nature of God in this manner: "Yet I this form of formless deity drew by the Square and Compasses of our Creed."

For, inevitable, a society without standards will be a society without stability, and it will one day go down. Not only nations, but whole civilizations have perished in the past, for lack of righteousness. History speaks plainly in this matter, and we dare not disregard it. Hence the importance attached to the Square of Virtue, and the reason why Masons call it the great symbol of their Craft. It is a symbol of that moral law upon which human life must rest if it is to stand. A man may build a house in any way he likes, but if he expects it to stand and be his home, he must adjust his structure to the laws and forces that rule in the material realm. Just so, unless we live in obedience to the moral laws which God has written in the order of things, our lives will fall and end in a wreck. When a young man forgets the simple Law of the Square, it does not need a prophet to foresee what the result will be. It is a problem in geometry.

Such has been the meaning of the Square as far back as we can go. Long before our era we find the Square teaching the same lesson which it teaches us today. In one of the old books of China, called :The Great Learning," which has been dated in the fifth century before Christ, we read that a man should not do unto others what he would not have them do unto him; and the writers adds, "This is called the principle of acting on the Square." There it is, recorded long, long ago. The greatest philosopher has found nothing more profound, and the oldest man in his ripe wisdom has learned nothing more true. Even Jesus only altered it from the negative to the positive form in his "Golden Rule." So, everywhere, in our Craft and outside, the Square has taught its simple truth which does not grow old. The Deputy Provincial Grand Master of North and East Yorkshire recovered a very curious relic, in the form of an old brass Square found under the foundation of an ancient bridge near Limerick in 1830. On it was inscribed the date, 1517, and the following words:

"Strive to live with love and care Upon the Level, by the Square."

How simple and beautiful it is, revealing the oldest wisdom man has learned and the very genius of our Craft. In fact and truth, the Square Rules the Mason as well as the Lodge in which he labors.. As soon as he enters a Lodge, the candidate walks the square steps around the Square pavement of a rectangular Lodge. All during the ceremony his attitude keeps him in mind of the same symbol, as if to fashion his life after its form. When he is brought to light, he beholds the Square upon the Altar, and at the same time sees that it is worn by the Master of the Lodge, as the emblem of his office. In the North-East Corner he is shown the perfect Ashlar, and told that it is the type of a finished Mason, who must be Square-man in thought and conduct, in word and act. With every art of emphasis the Ritual writes this lesson in our hearts, and if we forget this first truth the Lost Word will remain forever lost.

For Masonry is not simply a Ritual; it is a way of living.

It offers us a plan. a method, a faith by which we may build our days and years into a character so strong and true that nothing, not even death, can destroy it. Each of us has in his own heart a little try-square called Conscience, by which to test each thought and deed and word, whether it be true or false. By as much as a man honestly applies that test in his own heart, and in his relations with his fellows, by so much will his life be happy, stable, and true. Long ago the question was asked and answered: "Lord, who shall abide in thy Tabernacle? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart." It is the first obligation of a Mason to be on the Square, in all his duties and dealings with his fellow men, and if he fails there he cannot win anywhere. Let one of our poets sum it all up:

It matters not whate'er your lot
Or what your task may be,
One duty there remains for you
One duty stands for me.
Be you a doctor skilled and wise,
Or do your work for wage,
A laborer upon the street,
An artist on the stage;
Our glory still awaits for you,
One honor that is fair, To have men say as you pass by:
"That fellow's on the Square."
Ah, here's a phrase that stands for much
'Tis good old English too,
It means that men have confidence
In everything you do,
It means that what you have you've earned,
And that you've done your best,
And when you go to sleep at night
Untroubled you may rest.
It means that conscience is your guide,
And honor is your care;
There is no greater praise than this:
"That fellow's on the Square."
And when I die I would not wish
A lengthy epitaph;
I do not wish a headstone large,
Carved with fulsome chaff,
Pick out no single deed of mine,
If such a deed there be,
To 'grave upon my monument,
For those who come to see,
Just this one phrase of all I choose,
To show my life was fair:
Here sleepeth now a fellow who
Was always on the Square."

- Source: Short Talk Bulletin - Apr. 1924
Masonic Service Association of North America

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