Masons: A society rich in symbolism
May 17, 2013
By Marian Scott, THE GAZETTE
In the centre of every lodge room is a checkerboard, whose black and white squares represent the duality of good and evil.
A golden letter G hangs overhead. Some say it stands for God, but the prevailing wisdom is that it represents geometry.
Two snakes are entwined around a lamp, surrounded by the rays of the sun, in a bronze stair railing at the Masonic Temple. Note the rails shaped like Ionic columns, another important Masonic symbol.
The snake is a common motif that evokes the downfall of Adam and Eve but also represents hope of triumphing over evil, since God gave humans the power to trample the snake underfoot. “The serpentine emblem of Masonry … is a bright symbol of Hope,” wrote authority George Oliver (1782-1867). The lamp and sun evoke knowledge and enlightenment.
The pillars flanking the entrance to the temple represent Boaz and Jachin, pillars that stood on the porch of Solomon’s Temple.
Atop each are winged oxen supporting twin globes (below), one representing Earth and the other a heavenly body.
Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, described in the biblical book of Kings, is a dominant motif in freemasonry, signifying the most solid and magnificent structure ever built.
Square and compass
Freemasonry’s most common emblem is the square and compass, featured in the 19th century logo (above) created by John Henry Walker (1831-1899), an illustrator for several Montreal newspapers, including The Gazette.
Essential tools in architecture, they represent Masons’ dedication to the building crafts – and symbolize their focus on building the inner man. Thus, by extension, they represent an ability to show restraint and keep one’s behaviour within proper bounds.
The temple’s Memorial Hall features four large murals by Scottish-born Quebec artist Adam Sherriff Scott (1887-1980) depicting important moments in Masonic history. This one shows Masons laying the cornerstone of the Richardson Wing of the Montreal General Hospital in 1831. Trained in Edinburgh, Sherriff Scott also worked as an artist for The Gazette and the Hudson’s Bay Co.
Ionic columns dominate the temple’s majestic facade and are a common motif in freemasonry. One of the three classical orders of architecture – the other two are Doric and Corinthian – the Ionic style, with its scroll-like capital, symbolizes wisdom. The Doric order symbolizes strength and the Corinthian beauty.