Lodge St. Andrew #518

Morality, Allegory & Symbolism

What is Freemasonry ?
The most popular (or classic) answer to this question is
"a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols".

As a one-liner designed to impress it sounds good, but to be honest its not really the sort of answer you can hear or read and walk away and think "that's ok I know what Freemasonry is now", unless your competence with the English language is exceptionally good, that one line is probably the next best thing to gibberish.

In the text to follow I will break this sentence down into its individual parts Morality, Allegory and Symbolism, however, it should be clearly understood from the outset that this page and its content is merely a written opinion and should be considered more as a starting point for further study than as a complete answer. But I will explain the basics, the rest is up to you!

A System of Morality...

The Oxford Dictionary definition of moral:
   "Concerned with character or disposition, or with the distinction between rightand wrong."

The Oxford Dictionary definition of morality:
   "Moral principals or rules; moral conduct"

Freemasonry is governed by three great but simple principles "Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth."
Therefore Freemasonry is based on an ideal that will unite and accept men of every colour and creed.

Quote: Ernest Hemingway
"So far, about morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after"

...Veiled in Alegory...

Again here I will start with an Oxford Dictionary definition. Allegory:
   "Narrative description of subject."

In short an allegory is a story that you can learn from, much in the way that as a child you were taught the the story of the boy that cried wolf. If the word veiled precedes, then (again in short) "hidden meaning within a story".

...Illustrated by Symbols.

A symbol is quite simply something standing for, or representing something else.

ROADWORKS Look at the picture on the left...
   Q.. What does the sign on the road represent ?
   A.. Road works !
It doesn't actually say road works, it doesn't say there is a man busy digging a hole in the road just up ahead, likewise it doesn't say that there is a fleet of diggers and ten lorries completely relaying the road just round the next bend. One small sign can convey a multitude of options, it does prepare you for the fact that there is something happening on the road ahead, but not in any great detail. The symbol represents something but does not give a detailed explanation.

Likewise, in Freemasonry symbols are used to convey ideas. The basics of which are explained but further in depth speculation is required to delve the full depths of the meaning. Just like the road works sign, you understand its meaning but you are required to travel further down the road to fully understand its meaning...

Here's another,HOME ICON its a symbol, it actually says nothing, on a piece of paper you'd probably think of it as a reference of some kind to a house, but if you place this little graphic on a page of a web site, all of a sudden it has meaning "Click here to go to the sites Home Page"!

Square...and so it is with Freemasonry, for example the Square is a symbol of perfection, of rectitude of conduct, of honour and honesty, and of good work. This you are taught but it is down to you as an individual to interpret these grand precepts in a manner that is best suited and most applicable to yourself. It therefore follows that something as simple as the square with its meaning clearly defined can in reality have several different meanings, all dependant on interpretation.

Below is a beautiful graphic created by Bro. Steve McKim illustrating some of the many symbols used in Freemasonry.

Masonic Symbolism

The images below have a short verse explaining what each symbol represents.

The Anchor and Ark The Beehive The Book of Constitutions The Sword and Heart
The Hour Glass The Pot of Incense The Scythe McKim Masonic Art


And so the page comes full circle and we now ask again "What is Freemasonry ?"

And the answer as we now understand it...

A body of men gathered together under a united banner that will accept any man regardless of creed or status, with teachings in the form stories and pictures to help good men become better men and implement some basic principles into everyday life.