Masonic Symbols | Square and Compasses | Meaning

Masonic Symbols | Square and Compasses | Meaning

Although there are 1000’s of books on the subject – the exact meaning of the masonic symbols ‘Square and Compasses’ is not 100% known.

Wikipedia has a very small definition of their meaning:

The Square and Compasses (or, more correctly, a square and a set of compasses joined together) is the single most identifiable symbol of Freemasonry. Both the square and compasses are architect’s tools and are used in Masonic rituals as emblems to teach symbolic lessons. Some Lodges and rituals explain these symbols as lessons in conduct: for example, Duncan’s Masonic Monitor of 1866 explains them as: “The square, to square our actions; The compasses, to circumscribe and keep us within bounds with all mankind”.  However, as Freemasonry is non-dogmatic, there is no general interpretation for these symbols (or any Masonic symbol) that is used by Freemasonry as a whole.

As measuring instruments, the tools represent judgment and discernment.

“The Masonic Lodge Of Education” explains the meaning as:

Masonic writers, historians and websites (both now in in the past) use the words “Masonic emblems” and “Masonic symbols”, interchangeably.

This Masonic square and compasses is an emblem of the fraternity.  In fact, the Square and Compasses is trademark protected by the fraternity.

For centuries, the square and compasses have represented the fraternity of Freemasonry.  It is an emblem because its only meaning is that it represents the fraternity.  

When you view it, you would not confuse it with representing any other entity other than Freemasonry.  It represents an abstract idea, (that of a group of people who conform to specific beliefs.)

When you see the image of the 2 symbols (the Masonic square and compasses) in this configuration, together, they emblemize the fraternity.  They are a visible “sign” of the fraternity.

Emblems only have one meaning, however, symbols can have multiple meanings.

Symbols are something visible that by association or convention represents something else that is invisible.   (has more than one connotation)

There are 2 symbols used within the Masonic square and compasses emblem, above.

They are the Masonic square and the Masonic compasses.

Separately, they are symbols because each of them can have multiple connotations.

 Masonic Square Symbol

The word “square” could be taken to mean:

1.  A carpenter’s square, used to create true lines.

2.  A Masonic square, which symbolizes a state of moral rectitude. 

 Masonic compasses symbol

The word “compass” could be taken to mean:

1.  A compass used by an architect which when a base point is chosen, 
     will create a perfect circle around the base point to ensure that the
     work has the correct proportions, thus giving it beauty, stability and

2.  A compass used by a mariner which has a magnetic needle and circular
     dial or card by which he directs his course over the ocean.

3.  A compass used by an aircraft pilot which also has a magnetic needle
     by which he directs his course in the air.

4.  The Masonic compasses symbolize an implement of virtue by which we
     are taught to circumscribe (create a boundary around) our passions
     and keep our desires within due bounds.

The Masonic Dictionary writes:

As Masons we have adopted the 47th Problem of Euclid as the rule by which to determine or prove a perfect Square. Many of us remember with what interest we solved that problem in our school days. The Square has become our most significant Emblem. It rests upon the open Bible on this altar; it is one of the three great Lights; and it is the chief ornament of the Worshipful Master. There is a good reason why this distinction has been conferred upon the Square. There can be nothing truer than a perfect Square–a right angle. Hence the Square has become an emblem of Perfection.

Now a few words as to the Compass: Astronomy was the second great science promulgated among men. In the process of Man’s evolution there came a time when he began to look up to the stars and wonder at the vaulted Heavens above him. When he began to study the stars, he found that the Square was not adapted to the measurement of the Heavens. He must have circular measure; he needed to draw a circle from a central point, and so the Compass was employed. By the use of the Compass man began to study the starry Heavens, and as the Square primarily symbolized the Earth, the Compass began to symbolize the Heavens, the celestial canopy, the study of which has led men to think of God, and adore Him as the Supreme Architect of the Universe. In later times the Compass began to symbolize the spiritual or higher nature of man, and it is a significant fact that the circumference of a circle, which is a line without end, has become an emblem of Eternity and symbolizes Divinity; so the Compass, and the circle drawn by the Compass, both point men Heavenward and Godward.

The Masonic teaching concerning the two points of the Compass is very interesting and instructive. The novitiate in Masonry, as he kneels at this altar, and asks for Light sees the Square, which symbolizes his lower nature, he may well note the position of the Compass. As he takes another step, and asks for more Light, the position of the Compass is changed somewhat, symbolizing that his spiritual nature can, in some measure, overcome his evil tendencies. As he takes another step in Masonry, and asks for further Light, and hears the significant words, “and God said let there be Light, and there was Light,” he sees the Compass in new light; and for the first time he sees the meaning, thus unmistakably alluding to the sacred and eternal truth that as the Heavens are higher than the Earth, so the spiritual is higher than the material, and the spiritual in man must have its proper place, and should be above his lower nature, and dominate all his thoughts and actions. That eminent Philosopher, Edmund Burke, once said, “It is ordained that men of intemperate passions cannot be free. Their passions forge the chains which bind them, and make them slaves.” Burke was right. Masonry, through the beautiful symbolism of the Compass, tells us how we can be free men, by permitting the spiritual within us to overcome our evil tendencies, and dominate all our thoughts and actions. Brethren, sometimes in the silent quiet hour, as we think of this conflict between our lower and higher natures, we sometimes say in the words of another, “Show me the way and let me bravely climb to where all conflicts with the flesh shall cease. Show me that way. Show me the way up to a higher plane where my body shall be servant of my Soul. Show me that way.”