The "G" In Masonry's Emblem

by George H.T. French

 

A brother returned from a trip to Europe and asked "why is the

Letter G not attached to the Square and compasses over there?"

This resurrected the question that had arisen in my mind when

I first saw the device with three items: "What is the 'G' doing at-

tached to Freemasonry's classical and universal emblem?"

    In quest of an answer the question was put to several well

informed brothers, but they all gave -- essentially -- the same

answer that Coil offers in his Masonic Encyclopedia. This is what

Coil says:

 

    It will surprise some to know that it was not until about

    1850 that the Letter G was placed in the center of the inter-

    laced Square and Compasses for pins and badges as com-

    monly represented today, and that it is supposed to have

    originated as a jeweler's design and not by action of any

    Masonic authority.

 

    Farther down on the same page Coil states that:

 

    A moment's reflection will apprise one that the G in the

    center of the Square and Compasses is an incongruity ...

    The latter are great lights, but the G is not.

 

    In pursuing the matter, further evidence was discovered,

and the information available today shows that the attach-

ment of the three items occurred quite a few years before the

1850 date given by Coil. To submit that information is the

purpose of this paper.

 

SQUARE AND COMPASSES INTERLACED

 

    A good way to start will be to establish how the Square

and Compasses originally became interlaced and rose to be

the recognized and universal emblem of the Craft.

    The earliest known Masonic coin was minted in 1733. In

it there is visible a square and also a pair of compasses, but

these two items are set apart from each other. They are not

conjoined nor interlaced. Upon studying Masonic exposures

of the early 1700s there appears either a square or the com-

passes, and if both appeared simultaneously they were never

joined and not even near each other.

    Coil states that the square and compasses in their present

day interlacement first appeared in the seal of Lodge of Aber-

deen in 1762. However, even earlier than 1762 there is a beau-

tiful picture of an English warrant for the Provincial Grand

Lodge of Pennsylvania, dated July 15, 1761, in Freemasonry in

Pennsylvania, 1727 - 1907, Vol. I, pp. 120/1. It is signed by

Laurence Dermott and has the superimposed square and

compasses in the seal. The seal itself is depicted on page 672 of

the History of Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted

Masons, edited by Bro. H.L. Stillson, Boston, 1910.

    Careful research has brought to light earlier instances of

the interlaced square and compasses. For instance, there has

been found a reprint of a lodge summons form used in Europe

on the Continent in 1760.

    In a 1749 French exposure called Nouveau Catechisme des

Franc-Macons there is a pictorial representation of the master of

a lodge standing behind a table over which has been placed a

mantle adorned with interlaced square and compasses in a

manner usual among Masons.

    On the Island of Corfu excavations unearthed some eight

and ninth century coins and vessels, and among them a

bronze square and compasses. This jewel was very much cor-

roded, and although there can scarcely be a doubt that it is

Masonic, its age is difficult to ascertain. Much depends on the

level at which the jewel might have been found, and unfortu-

nately, there was no such information on the point. British

Museum experts were inclined to ascribe it to the seventeenth

century.

    In Cuzco, Peru, capital of the old Inca empire, the Con-

quistadores erected the Church of La Compania in 1580. It

was reconstructed about 1600 to 1620. Alongside the church,

while it was in course of erection, would have been a masons'

workshop or "lodge," and it is precisely in this area that two

carved 3 foot tail wooden objects have been recently

unearthed. One of which clearly shows a square and com-

passes. The carved objects which may well have adorned the

"lodge" in some prominent location, are now in the possession

of Koricancha ("Temple of the Sun") Lodge No. 40, Cuzco,

constituted in 1942 under the Grand Lodge of Peru.

    The information presented proves that historically the as-

sociation between the square and compasses is of long stand-

ing. Antiquity supports their partnership. To that must be

added that they appear together, in Sundry Roles, in all three

degrees of Craft Masonry. Hence, universality is added to

their antiquity. It is only natural, then, that these tools would

gradually come together and become interlaced to constitute

the classical emblem of the Craft.

 

APPEARANCE OF THE LETTER G

 

    Historically, the square and the compasses were used in

architecture and have been in Masonry since time immemo-

rial, and this explains their presence in the Freemasonry we

practice today. Whereas the Letter G appears to have entered

Freemasonry as late as the 1700s.

    The prevailing notion is that there is no trace of the Let-

ter G in the numerous English and Scottish catechisms that

appeared during the years 1696 to 1730. However, in 1726

there was published in London a newspaper advertisement re-

garding "Antediluvian Masonry," which seemed to be a skit

on Dr. Desaguliers and his friends, and was obviously written

by some well-informed person. The advertisement announces

that there will be several lectures on Ancient Masonry, partic-

ularly on the Signification of the Letter G. If the 1726 date is

correct, then this advertisement contains the earliest refer-

ences known to us about the Letter G.

    Furthermore, the Wilkinson manuscript is a catechism

tentatively dated c. 1727 and it says: "Q. What is the centre of

yr Lodge? A. The Letter G."

    The frontispiece to Cole's Constitutions, which is dated

1728/29, clearly shows a letter G in the head of an arch at the

right of the central figure.

    The use of the Letter G was definitely established in the

Masonic ritual by Samuel Prichard in his tremendously pop-

ular 1730 Exposure, printed under the name of Masonry Dis-

sected. Because Prichard introduced new developments, one of

which was an explanation of the Letter G, it does not mean

that he invented these developments. In the first place, there

is the above mentioned 1726 newspaper reference to the G,

and in the second place the rather archaic doggeral verse in

which the G is handled in Masonry Dissected suggests some

measure of antiquity. It is far more likely that the Letter G

and other explanatory aspects were traditional material in

Craft lore long before the Speculative expansion had begun

and the accretive bulkiness of the ritual had started to afflict

Craft Ceremonial.

    A very early instance of a pictorial reproduction of the

Letter G in print appears in an engraving representing an

English lodge at refreshment. The copperplate engraving was

the work of K. Koberg, it was performed in 1738 and ap-

peared in Calliope, a song book dated 1739.

  An exposure called Dialogue Between Simon and Philip, dated

c. 1740, has two prints. The first one shows the cruciform shape

of the old lodges, whereas the second shows the oblong form of

the new lodges under Desaguliers. But what is of special interest

is the fact that both drawings show a "G" in the Center of the

"lodge," in one with a diamond shaped rombus, and in the other

within an irradiated circle. That was c. 1740.

    When the Letter G did enter into Speculative Masonry it

was most decidedly only as a Second Degree Symbol. What

happened was that when the two original degrees were grad-

ually being transformed into three degrees in the early 1700s,

the initial weakness of the newborn Second Degree was offset

by the introduction of innovations. Thus the Middle Chamber

and the Letter G were added to the Fellowcraft Degree, and

originally did not have any connection at all with the First or

Third Degrees. For that matter, not even in today's work is

the G mentioned in the First or Third Degrees.

    By 1744 there appears pictorial evidence of the G in a

French exposure called Le Catechisme des Franc-Macons, written

by Louis Travenol. Le Catechisme furnishes an engraving de-

picting a combined design for the Apprentice - Fellow's

Lodge, in the center of which there is clearly visible a Letter G

within a blazing star. This is one of the earliest-known printed

illustrations of what ultimately became the modern Tracing

Boards. It is just possible that this engraving, showing a de-

sign combining the Blazing Star, a First Degree symbol, with

the Letter G, a Second Degree symbol, on the same floor

drawing may have led, by gradual and successive mutations,

to the display of the Letter G in lodges of all degrees. This may

have been fostered by the 1843 Baltimore Convention when it

sounded the death knell of the Blazing Star as being too Chris-

tian a symbol.

    During the years between 1740 and 1780 there is evi-

dence of the G as an item of lodge furnishings, either as a pen-

dant from the ceiling of the lodge-room, or as a template on

the floor, or as part of the design of the tracing boards. Today

very few of the almost 2000 lodges in London have a visible G

either in the East or hanging from the ceiling, whereas the G

is displayed in every Scottish lodge, usually hanging above the

altar in the center of the Lodge-room, although sometimes in

the East over the Master's chair.

    A point to remember is that when the Letter G entered

our ancient ritual it was represented pictorially on floor cloths

or tracing boards as standing on its own, and in no way linked

to the square and compasses. For instance, an engraving by

John Scoles is the Frontispiece of James Hardie's New Freema-

son's Monitor printed in New York, in 1818. Also, a handker-

chief printed by Gray and Todd, in Philadelphia, c. 1817. In

both these pictures appear square and compasses, sometimes

separated, sometimes interlaced, but never attached in any-

way to the Letter G, presented in both specimens.

    Notwithstanding that it is conspicuously displayed in

many lodges, the Letter G has the curious, if not unique, dis-

tinction of being a Masonic symbol which does not have the

all-important characteristic of universality. In the first place,

the working tools, the greater and lesser lights, the pillars,

which form an intrinsic part of our method of teaching, convey

the same lessons to Masons in every language. Whereas the G

bears its interpretation primarily in English, and only by ac-

cident in other languages such as German. Secondly, the G

lacks universality because ritually it appears only in the sec-

ond Degree.

 

GEOMETRY

 

    One cannot read the old Masonic Constitutions without

being struck by the prominence given to Geometry in their de-

scriptions of Masonry. The oldest copy of them all - The Re-

gius Poem - makes Masonry to spring from Geometry, as

may be seen in lines 53 and 54 of that manuscript: "On this

manner, thru good wit of Geometry - Began first the Craft of

Masonry."

    In every one of the hundred or so old manuscripts, Ge-

ometry is placed first among the Sciences.

    The most reasonable explanation would be that Opera-

tive Masonry was nothing other than applied Geometry, and

the two terms, Masonry and Geometry, became virtually syn-

onymous, with the word Geometry holding a special connota-

tion for the masons of c. 1400. So long as that connotation re-

mained (as it did for several hundred years) it was inevitable

that when the first glimmerings of symbolism began to make

their appearance in the Craft, the significance of Geometry

would be emphasized in some way.

    When the Craft became more structured as a Speculative

Craft after the creation of the Premier Grand Lodge in 1717,

Geometry continued in its place of prominence. Masonry Dis-

sected, a 1730 exposure, stated that the institution is rounded

on "the liberal arts and sciences, but more especially on the

fifth, viz., Geometry."

    A Dialogue Between Simon and Philip, a c. 1740 expo-

sure, also stresses Geometry. "Phil. Why was you made a

Mason? Sim. For the sake of the letter G. Phil, What does it

signifye? Sim, GEOMETRY. Phil. Why GEOMITRY? Sim.

Because it is the Root and foundation of all Arts and Sci-

ences. "

    William Preston, in his Lectures of the end of the 18th

century, reflects this thought, that masonry and geometry

meant the same thing to those concerned, because originally

Masonry and Geometry must have been synonymous terms.

And round about the year 1800 the G. denoted Geometry for

the Premier Grand lodge of England.

    In the Revised English Ritual, the Charge after Passing

states that "the study of the liberal Arts which tend so effec-

tually to polish and adorn the mind, is earnestly recom-

mended to your consideration, especially the study of Geome-

try, which is established as the basis of our Craft."

 

ANCIENT OF DAYS

 

    However, as the operative element of the Craft died out,

the Letter G gradually lost its powers to suggest Geometry. At

the same time, the Speculative Masons began referring to God

as the Grand Geometrician of the Universe in the Second De-

gree, and some feel that this trend helped to veer the meaning

of the G from Geometry to God. However, available evidence

for this explanation is indeed very slender. What we do know

is that originally the Letter G in the Fellowcraft Degree re-

ferred to Geometry, that this degree was altered considerably

between 1730 and 1813, and that gradually the reference to

God was introduced and became solidly established.

 

G ATTACHED TO THE EMBLEM

 

    The next question is, when did all three items - Square,

Compasses and "G" - first appear attached? Harry Carr

says that it is impossible to answer with certainty because

many of the examples (even the early ones) are not dated, and

many that have early dates are forgeries! In England most of

the best examples belong to the period 1775 to 1810, mainly in

pierced silver jewels and less often in solid "plate" Jewels.

    Most changes take place gradually. The attachment of

the G to the interlaced Square and Compasses also occurred

gradually, and did not happen at the same time in all places.

Thus there is a pierced silver jewel of c. 1760 which shows the

working tools (square and compasses interlaced) not enclos-

ing a G but surrounded by a large G which more or less

frames the whole design. Many of these items appear to have

been "decorative" rather than "ritualistic."

    For the first appearance of the interlaced square, com-

passes and the Letter G in the United States, Brother Harry

Carr suggests the perfect answer. In Masonic Symbols in Ameri-

can Decorative Arts, published in 1976 by the Scottish Rite Mu-

seum of our National Heritage (U.S.A.), there is a picture

(Item No. 10) ofa gilded brass piece cast by Paul Revere and

dated 1796. This specimen consists of the three interlaced

items, Square, Compasses and G. Surrounded by a cable tow,

and has been lent to the Museum by its owner, Mr. Russell

Nadeau. Item No. 12, a door knocker in brass removed from a

house in Boston, Mass., before 1910, is equally useful but un-

fortunately is not dated. Further research is leading to the feel-

ing that 1796 is not the earliest date, and that there may be

items from c. 1775 onwards made in America.

    One must always beware of forgeries and anachronisms.

There is a painting on display in the Chicago Historical Soci-

ety in which George Washington appears wearing a Masonic

apron which shows the Letter G attached to the interlaced

square and compasses. There is also a picture of Benjamin

Franklin wearing an apron with the same design. Washington

died in 1799 and Franklin died in 1790. So it is very probable

that aprons with the three element design were not yet being

worn when these patriots lived.

    It is a fact that the power of fashion and common usage

has always to be reckoned with. For instance, Coil on page

270 of his Masonic Encyclopedia states his belief in the incongru-

ity of placing the G in the center of the square and compasses.

And yet, at the top of that very same page there appears a

drawing of the G placed within the interlaced Square and

Compasses!

    Moreover, there must be a certain appeal or attraction

about the three unit Masonic emblem, for it is found in many

parts of the world and displayed in many ways and forms. In

Cuba, over the illuminated terrestrial globe on the roof of the

Grand Lodge Temple at Havana, In Mexico, on a publication.

In Jamaica on the building of the Masonic Temple above Mon-

tego Bay. In the Republic of Colombia on a Masonic pamphlet.

Below the Equator, on a postage stamp in Brasil. Across the At-

lantic, the device is displayed in Scotland on the Master Ma-

son's apron and on the Jewel of the Grand Master in Ireland.

The Spanish Masons also use it: on the 1830 seal of the Lodge

Friends of Nature and Humanity, in Gijon, and on the cover of

the Constitution of the Grand Orient of Spain, Madrid, 1934.

Finland, whose Lodge of Research is a Corresponding Member

of Texas Lodge of Research, shows the G coveting the joint of

the Compasses. Because it is seen everywhere in United States

there is no need to mention any instances of its use. However, it

would not be amiss to mention that it is placed very conspicu-

ously on Texas' reconstructed first Masonic monument, the one

in Morton Cemetery, Richmond, originally dedicated in 1825 to

Robert Gillespie.

 

IN CONCLUSION

 

    In conclusion, let it be stated that 1850 is not the earliest

recorded case of the G appearing inside the interlaced Square

and Compasses. There is definite proof of Paul Revere having

cast a brass specimen as early as 1796. And, as for the second

part of Coil's statement, one must accept that the incongruity

of the union is hallowed by and must be accepted due to the

power of common usage.

                

Published in Transactions, Texas

 

 

 

         

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