The Square & Compasses: Symbol or Emblem
Donald J. Van Kirk, MPS
When you place the Square and Compasses on your lapel, are you putting on an emblem or a symbol? Many of our brethren today have forgotten the symbolism and are only reflecting to the outer world the emblem of an organization they belong too. To each of us the Square & Compasses symbolizes something that cannot always be put into words.
To Washington and the Masons of his day, it meant a Lodge room and brethren where they could meet and discuss their daily trials and tribulations without fear of treachery, to others it was a post office or a news stand where they could get the latest news from home. To many, it was a respite from the turmoil of the world which would never be the same after the American Revolution.
Our World History is replete with stories of how the Square and Compasses have saved the lives of brethren either through the Sign of Distress or the recognition of the Symbol itself.
Some men have just enjoyed meeting with other men and the fellowship that ensued while just sharing a common meal.
To the majority of men it means a way of life. We know the meaning of the inner spiritual temple of man and must show that to our uninitiated friends.
We must always chose to serve rather than to be served. We feel we are privileged to belong to the Craft and search for the deeper meaning which has held it together, some say for thousands of years.
Is the vast organization of Masonry merely ordained to the grown up men of the World the symbolic meaning of a few simple builders tools, or to impress upon us such elementary virtues as temperance and justice? The children of every school are taught these. Or just to enforce such simple principles or morals such as brotherly love, which every church and religion teaches; or of truth, which every infant learns upon his mother's knee. The Craft whose work we are taught to honour with the name of a "science" a royal art," has surely some larger end in view than merely inculcating the practice of social virtues common to all the world and by no means the monopoly of Freemasons. Of Course, but how do we communicate it? By living the ritual that we know so well. We all came seeking spiritual rebirth. The first degree is the comprehensive portrayal of that entrance of all men into, first, physical life, and second, spiritual life; or more eminently the degree of self discipline and purification. For he who is not pure in body and mind and who is enslaved by passions and desires of this world, is by the very fact of his uncleanliness, prevented from passing on.
After purification comes contemplation and enlightenment, which are the special subjects of the second degree. Here he is taught to persist with fortitude and with prudence, to develop the highest within him with "Fervency and Zeal ' " The third degree symbolically passes him through a great and striking change: A re- birth a regeneration of his whole nature. He has been "sown a corruptible body"; and in virtue of self-discipline and self-development he has undergone, there has been raised in him "an incorruptible body" and death has been swallowed up in the victory, he has attained over himself. How can you feel this meaning of the Craft? By learning the meaning behind the words of the rituals. Take part, live the part, get taken up into the very nature of it and then you will begin to feel the light.
No one can communicate the deeper things in Masonry to another. Every man must discover and learn them for himself, although a friend or brother may be able to conduct him on the right path of understanding.
Only when we begin to feel the symbolism of Masonry can we truly say "I wear the symbol and not the emblem of our Craft."