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Understanding Masonic Sacred Geometry

The term “sacred geometry” can be somewhat intimidating: How might geometry be sacred, one might wonder. And, how does Masonry fit in?

The core concept of sacred geometry is that geometric order (shapes, curves, and constructs) precedes all physical existence – that geometry was invented by the Great Architect of the Universe as a structure through which to order all of creation. Under this tradition, its symbols take on metaphysical and symbolic meanings. “Geometry, or Masonry, originally synonymous terms, is of a divine and moral nature,” wrote William Preston, a seminal figure in 18th century British Freemasonry. “The contemplation of this science in a moral and comprehensive view, fills the mind with rapture…[and] proves the existence of a first cause.”

For some, all of geometry is sacred. At the other extreme, sacred geometry may be regarded as a system of fixed symbols and their relationships. As a coherent system, the origins of sacred geometry in Western civilization can be traced to the sixth century BCE philosophical school of Pythagoras. The historical Pythagoras is essentially a cipher, as there are no contemporary accounts of his philosophy. His extensive legend, however, along with the writings of Plato, Aristotle, and his other followers, was transmitted through the centuries and had a direct influence on the development of speculative Freemasonry.

“By Geometry we may curiously trace nature through her various windings to her most concealed recesses. By it we discover the power, wisdom and goodness of the Great Artificer of the Universe …”

WILLIAM PRESTON

Like Freemasonry, sacred geometry appeals to both the rational and creative mind. While geometric proof is relentlessly logical, the truths it conveys and patterns it reveals within the natural world urge its scholars to contemplate their place in God’s cosmos.

Many sacred geometric applications and symbols are familiar to Masons. First is the circumpoint, the point within a circle: In Masonry, the point represents an individual, and the circle, the limits of his behavior. In sacred geometry, this symbol is called the monad, which represented divinity and the unity of the universe to Pythagoras.

The standalone circle, being without end, symbolizes divinity and heaven. It is created using a compass and defined by three points. These points can be interpreted as the three principal tenets of Freemasonry – brotherly love, relief, and truth (the last of which is often described as “a divine attribute”). As a divine symbol, these points can also be interpreted to correspond with St. Paul’s theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. These virtues are said to originate in God, and they are evoked in the celestial first-degree description of the covering of a lodge as heaven itself.

The circle’s complement is the square. Bound by four finite sides, it represents the limits of the physical world and our mortal existence. In Masonry, the square represents the perfect ashlar – a perfectly shaped square block without faults that is strong and steadfast, capable of supporting the blocks around it. Masons work to emulate this square; to be men of good character who are honest and reliable members of our communities. The square is reflected in the shape of the lodge room. The room’s sides correspond to the four cardinal points of the compass, and thus to a map of the Earth. It contains the four cardinal virtues adapted from Plato’s “Republic” which originate in man – temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice.

A slightly more complex symbol is the Pythagorean tetractys, an equilateral triangle formed by 10 dots, which has a prominent role in the Scottish Rite:

 

This has many symbolic meanings, but an important one is perfection, or completeness, derived from the symbolic significance of the number 10.

The 3: 4: 5 right triangle, which displays the 47th Problem of Euclid as explained in the third degree, “teaches Masons to be general lovers of the arts and sciences.” Operative masons used a length of rope divided into 12 equal segments (three plus four plus five) to make this triangle. It provided them with a swift and accurate method of creating a right angle, to be used as a template for the Mason’s square.

Sacred geometric symbolism, which can be very complex, is only touched on lightly in the three degrees. Its most prominent place is in the second degree, where the candidate is urged to study the liberal arts and sciences, “especially of the noble science of Geometry.” As with all profound Masonic lessons, the instruction conveyed in the ritual is the beginning of wisdom to be discovered on this subject, not its culmination: There are profound depths ready to be plumbed.

The study of sacred geometry is a means by which “to view with reverence and admiration the glorious works of the Creation,” and to inspire a Mason “with the most exalted ideas of the perfections of his Divine Creator.” Although one understanding of sacred geometry is that its forms are divine manifestations in the natural world, one must take time to scrutinize the natural world in order to deduce them and marvel at their presence.

Preston wrote with lyrical awe on the beautiful geometry in nature, from the most elegant seashell and flower to the vastness of space. As he professed, in words forever enshrined in Masonry,

“By Geometry we may curiously trace nature through her various windings to her most concealed recesses. By it we discover the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Great Artificer of the Universe… A survey of nature, and the observation of her beautiful proportions, first determined man to imitate the Divine plan, and to study symmetry and order.”

This is the true objective of sacred geometry and its symbols: Finding further light within Masonry.

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Century Lodge No. 190
c/o Robert R. Chapman, Secretary
2532 9th Ave
Greeley, CO 80631