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What is a symbol?

Today in Masonic History we ask what is a symbol?

A symbols is a person, concept or object which stands for another idea, belief or entity.

Freemasonry is rich with symbols. One need only look on the outside of most lodge buildings to see the symbol of Freemasonry the square and compasses. Symbols can be difficult though and can be easily interpreted based on the personal beliefs or background of the person who views the symbol. A non-masonic and very dark example of this is the Swastika. For most in Western culture it conjures up thoughts of one of the darkest times in human history when millions were killed simply for who they were and what they believed. The Swastika has been used throughout the world though. In Hinduism it is a symbol of good fortune and was used for thousands of years prior to becoming a dark symbol in western culture. Depending on your personal experience you may view that particular symbol in a positive or negative way and your interpretation may have no bearing on what the next person sees in that symbol.

For Freemasonry the same can be said for symbols that we use regularly. A perfect example of this is the letter G which is often seen in English speaking countries in the center of the square and compasses. Depending on the jurisdiction and who you ask you may hear that the G represents geometry, God or the Grand Architect of the Universe. I am sure there are other examples of what the G may stand for. Regardless of which a Freemason believes it illustrates the point that a symbol is something that is unique to the person who views it, it therefore can be easily misinterpreted by someone who looks in at that symbol without the proper context or understanding. Often our symbols are twisted either intentionally or unintentionally by the outside observer. There are those that see pentagrams in the square and compasses saying that it has a dark or sinister meaning. In mathematics the pentagram can be used to illustrate the golden ratio.

In Freemasonry, regardless of jurisdiction we are all about symbols. It is only through education about those symbols that we can properly interpret the lessons of the Fraternity. Despite our best efforts to explain those symbols to the world at large, we are stuck with the nearly impossible task of convincing others to see those symbols through our eyes.