A reflection on the ornaments by our Past Master Ed Brown:
In the first degree of Masonry, the newly initiated member is given a glimpse into the symbolism and allegories associated with Masonry with the understanding that much will be learned as he both studies the first lessons and, later, is exposed to new symbolism and deeper explanations of the earlier symbols. How much he learns will depend on his zeal for the institution and his search for the knowledge of that light, that Blazing Star in the distance given by God to the early man and preserved among the vicissitudes of ages within the teachings of Freemasonry. Between the initiated and truth will lie the darkness that struggles with light and the clouds and shadows that hide the mysteries of our order.
It may seem initially overwhelming to the member but the first degree lecture is but a glimpse of the real meaning and mysteries of Freemasonry. In the historical lecture and to a lesser extent in the proficiency examination the Entered Apprentice learns of the basics of the lodge. The Monitor of the Lodge tells us there is both an internal and external lodge and the first degree concentrates on the external. It refers to the physical Lodge, composed of its building, furnishings and members. While a comparison of the physical lodge is made to the structure of King Solomon’s Temple we really leave the newly-initiated member with a fairly vague description of the physical arrangements citing only the form and orientation, the covering, the furniture, the ornaments, the lights, and the jewels. Besides the physical, we tell him to whom lodges are dedicated as well as the principle tenets and virtues of our order.
With only that, the Entered Apprentice Mason is left to subdue his passions and improve himself in Masonry partially by contemplating the allegories contained in the ritual and briefly described in the monitor.
The new Mason is taught that the ornaments of the lodge are the Mosaic Pavement, Indented Tessel, and Blazing Star. The Texas Monitor of the Lodge1 tells us the Mosaic Pavement is a representation of the ground floor; and that the Indented Tessel is that beautiful tessellated border or skirting which surrounded it. It goes on to explain the Mosaic Pavement “is emblematical of human life checkered with good and evil; the beautiful border which surrounding it is emblematical of those manifold blessings and comforts which surround us, and which we hope to obtain by a faithful reliance on the Divine Providence, which is hieroglyphically represented by the Blazing Star in the center.”2
Beyond that, the monitor leaves us with no further explanations and the mind is left to contemplate the significance. However, many scholars have pondered the meaning of these symbols and a review of the historical literature can lead us to a better understanding.
DEEPER SYMBOLISM OF THE ORNAMENTS
Masonic scholar Henry Coil tells us “the description of the floor of King Solomon’s temple does not appear complicated at first sight but nothing but few things in the ritual are less understood or have caused more complexity.”3
The Mosaic (or checkered) Pavement is the first of the three lodge ornaments and is the most prominent part of the temple floor.
A mosaic is assumed to be a pattern of various colors connected in various shapes producing either a pattern or a picture. In Masonic tradition, the mosaic consists of a checkerboard pattern of black and white squares. Most Masonic literature also refers its shape as a rectangle of three by four units of measure giving it a Pythagorean diagonal of precisely five. There is little doubt that this pattern was meant to represent opposites such as good and evil. However, scholars are not in agreement as to what opposites are being compared by this black and white pattern.
Albert Pike suggests that it symbolizes, whether so intended or not, the good and the bad principles of the Egyptian and Persian Creed. It is the warfare of Michael and Satan, of the gods and the Titans, between light and shadow, day and night, and of freedom and despotism. 4
Texas Masonry accepts the more common explanation that it represents life or man and is emblematical of the good and evil that we all face in our daily lives. If such is the explanation, it remains imperfect as the regularlity of good and evil do not come into our lives as sharply cut squares set in tiers and rows. Lawrence describes it as illustrating the lights and shadow of life – mingled virtue and vice, pleasure and pain, and all the other mutually antagonistic incidents which go into out “checkered” existence. He ponders why then it is not given more attention but explains that the lights and shadows of life are put under our feet where we often fail to notice them.5
An alternate explanation is that the opposite colors relate to the opposite ways in which God deals with man — justice vs. mercy, reward vs. punishment, vengeance vs. loving kindness, etc. 6
A possible third explanation is that the opposites refer to the choices we make in our daily lives. Given the belief that the description of the floor may have been added in the early days of European Masonry in the 18th Century, it is plausible that it reflected the attitude of that period. Just after the two Great Awakenings in America and following the American and French Revolutions, moral and religious fervor was high in people’s minds. It was politically important “to choose sides” in the great debates of the day.7
What we do know is that it is symbolic and not historical. While one might expect mosaic-like ornamentation in King Solomon’s temple, the Biblical references show that the actual floor of the temple was probably fir or pine wood inlaid with gold. More than likely, the checkered pavement as a Masonic symbol began in 18th century in lodges of England and France. It was customary then to meet in temporary locations such as taverns, inns or private houses. As furnishings were sparse or nonexistent, it was the practice to draw the lodge on the floor with chalk or charcoal. It would have been the duty of the newest Entered Apprentice to draw the design. As lodges became better fixed financially floor cloths or coverings were used, perhaps then incorporating the mosaic design. 8
There is perhaps no symbol in Masonry more confusing than the Indented Tessel — both its description and its meaning.
The indented tessel or tesslelated border is the skirt-work around the Mosaic pavement or, more broadly, around the lodge. In Webb’s Freemason’s Monitor of 1797, it is described as “that beautiful tessellated border which surrounds the ground floor of King Solomon’s Temple.”9
Most Grand Lodges in America, including Texas, assume it to describe the jagged edge of the pavement produced by the alternating half-squares of white and black at the edge of the mosaic design. This representation is clearly shown in both the Texas Manual of the Lodge and as represented in the foyer of the Texas Grand Lodge temple in Waco. This follows the definition of indented as being “notched or serrated producing a jagged edge”.10 However, the original translation of the term Indented Tessel comes from the French words la houpe dentelèe which the French took to mean “a cord forming true lover’s knots surrounding the tracing-board.” The Germans referred to it as the “cord of strong threads.” Thus, in European Masonry, it’s generally assumed that the decorative border is a rope. Further, that design frequently had tassels placed at each of the four corners representing the four cardinal virtues – Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice. From this evolved another term — a tasselated border. The form and meaning was now apparent. The tessellated border is a cord, decorated with tassels, which surrounds the tracing board of the Entered Apprentice. This design, first drawn with chalk, eventually became the accepted design for the floor of the lodge. 11
The American concept reflecting the border as a part of the Mosaic pattern seems to have come from a misapprehension of the plate of the Monitor of Cross. This implied that the tessellated border was a part of the mosaic (or tessellated) pavement and made of little square stones. 12 Mackey speculates this started with the corruption of “tasselated” to “tessellated” and resulted in the change from “indented tassel” to “indented tessel”.
The resulting phrase is best translated as “jagged small square or tile.”
Irrespective of whether the border consists of a decorative rope (European) or serrated tile (American), it clearly implies there is a distinctive border around the Mosaic pattern of the floor that we all accept it as an ornament of the lodge and a symbol of Masonry.
However, there is even more disagreement as to its symbolic meaning. The accepted meaning in Texas and most other American grand lodges comes from Webb’s
Freemason’s Monitor as “emblematical of the manifold blessings and comforts which surround us and which we hope to obtain by a faithful reliance on Divine Providence.”13 The French ritual says that it is intended “to teach the Freemason that the Society of which he constitutes a part surrounds the earth, and that distance, so far from relaxing the bonds which unite the members to each other, ought to draw them closer.” German scholar C. Lenning says that it symbolized the fraternal bond by which all Freemasons are united. But German bookseller and Mason, Johann Gädike, is more precise. He defines it as “the universal bond by which every Freemason ought to be united to his Brethren,” and he says “it should consist of sixty threads or yarns, because, according to the ancient Statutes, no Lodge was allowed to have more than 60 members.”14 While Mackey cites the various explanations, he neither gives, nor does he imply, any esoteric significance. Further Albert Pike disposes of it as having no symbolic meaning, “and if any is attached to it, it is fanciful and arbitrary.” 15 Both Roberts16 and Streé17 believe that references to the border were added in later monitors, probably after 1735, and discount the border as having no apparent symbolic meaning. Thus, the Mason is left to his own conclusion and must ponder why the border is given prominence as an ornament, yet left so undefined as a Masonic symbol.
Unlike the Mosaic Pavement and Indented Tessel where we contemplate the symbolic meaning, the reference in the Blazing Star is quite clear. It symbolizes the Divine Providence of our Great Architect of the Universe. From the earliest mention of the Blazing Star in the 18th Century, it was clear in all Masonic references that the allusion, at least as an ornament described in the Entered Apprentice degree, was to God from whom we receive all our blessings. Various other descriptions are given it in later degrees in the Scottish Rite but most consider those secondarily symbolic, not to detract from its importance of referring to Deity as clearly shown in the first degree. These includes “a symbol of truth,” ”the star of direction,” “symbolic of a true Freemason,” “an emblem of direction,” and “Star of Truth formed by Faith above Reason.” 18
However, the controversy in this ornament concerns precisely what the Blazing Star is or is meant to look like. While many images give it the appearance of the five-pointed star (the pentalpha), both Coil and Mackey make it clear it is neither that nor the six- pointed star Heraldic star.19 Many of the depictions would seem to show a five-pointed star. The five-pointed star has it’s origin in the ancient religions involving Sirius, the sun god, and prominently in the worship of the goddess Venus. Critics of Masonry quickly but incorrectly say such depictions in our lodge link us to the worship of a pagan god.
Many references, including the Lightfoot monitor as well as both Coil’s and Mackey’s encyclopedias, include a quote from Albert Pike in Morals and Dogma:
“To find in the BLAZING STAR of five points an allusion to Divine Providence is also fanciful; and to make it commemorative of the Star that is said to have guided the Magi is to give it a meaning comparatively modern. Originally, it represented SIRIUS, or the Dog Star.” 20
In an attempt to avoid the perception that Masonry is tied to these ancient star-god or sun-god rituals, Mackey, Coil, and most other Masonic scholars make it abundantly clear the Masonic Blazing star is not the five-pointed star. A careful reading of Pike actually supports the position that he was not trying to make the connection, but simply pointing out that we do not find Divine Providence through the five-pointed star.
Some images, including that in the Texas Monitor of the Lodge, show the Blazing Star as overlapping two graphic representations of five-pointed stars, giving an impression of a 10 pointed star. Lightfoot supports the 10-pointed star argument and draws the comparison to its use by Pythagoras in the 47th problem of Euclid in which 10 figures of the problem completely fill any circle, the extended lines of which form a 10-pointed star.21 Others show it in various other denominations with either straight or wavy lines, perhaps implying heat or radiation. The multi-rayed version, is displayed behind the square and compasses on the Texas Monitor of the Lodge and prominently shown illuminated above the East in the Grand Lodge of Texas temple in Waco.
Arguably more important than what the symbol looks like is what it is meant to represent. The 18th Century English historian William Hutchison says, “It’s the first and most exalted object that demands our attention in the lodge.”22 He further states,
“The blazing star or glory in the center of the lodge is the emblem of Divine Providence, and reminds us of that awful period when the Almighty delivered the two tables stone which contained the commandments to His faithful servant Moses on Mount Sinai, when the days of Devine Glory shown so bright that none might behold it without fear and trembling. It also reminds of the omnipotence of Devine Love overshadowing us and dispensing His blessings among us and, being placed in the center, reminds us that whenever we may be assembled together, God is in the midst of us, seeing our actions, and observing the secret intents of our hearts.” 23
Later, in the lectures credited to distinguished English Freemason Thomas Dunckerley and adopted by the English Grand Lodge, the Blazing Star was said to represent “the star which led the wise men to Bethlehem, proclaiming to mankind the nativity of the Son of God, and here conducting our spiritual progress to the Author of our redemption.” 24 This representation was repeated in the lectures taught by Webb, and very generally adopted in the United States as “commemorative of the star which appeared to guide the wise men in the east to the place of our Savior’s Nativity.25
These interpretations were unacceptable to those who advocated the Great Architect of the Universe to be a universal god, not just the God of Christianity and, in 1843 at the Baltimore convention, this language was removed leaving only the reference to Divine Providence.26
Of course that left a void. If it wasn’t the star of the Nativity, which star was it?
Some have suggested it is the sun, but that begs the question as to why the sun would be both a lesser light as well an ornament of the lodge. Coil concludes it must be the sun but somewhat unconvincingly. He closes his discussion saying, “While symbolism need not be absolutely logical or realistic, it ought not to be so incongruous as to be absurd or unbelievable or inconsistent with itself or other symbolism.”27
Interestingly, early Texas monitors before the1930s adopted the sun theory and correspondingly considered the Indented Tessel to refer to the planets.28 Lightfoot presented what is considered the current interpretation in his 1934 monitor but also included the previous one as a commentary “for the purpose of preserving it, and also for the ideas embodied in it.29
“The Blazing Star represents the Sun, which enlightens the earth, and by it benign influences dispenses its blessings to all mankind. The Indented, or Tesselated border, refers to the Plants which, in their revolution, form a beautiful border around that grand luminary, and are emblematic of the blessings and comforts that surround us.”30
J. K. Street, a member of Waco Lodge, wrote “The Morals of Freemasonry on the First Three Degrees,” and in it, leaves us with a more comfortable explanation. “The Blazing Star, like other things in Masonry, is a selection from nature. It has been used as a symbol to represent several truths. … The real symbol of the Blazing Star is, it represents the All-seeing Eye of God. It has the Cabalistic meaning of the Divine Energy, manifesting as Light creating the Universe. It is an emblem of God; it teaches redemption from sin.”31
THE ORNAMENTS OF THE SYMBOLIC LODGE
One must contemplate why only three items were considered to be the only ornaments of the lodge. Surely, there would have been many other ornate objects that decorated King Solomon’s temple, the pattern for Masonic Lodges. Further, why would all three have been on the floor and why is there no historical or Biblical reference of such a floor in the original temple? While we know the reference to the ornaments did not appear until around 1735 and we further know they are apparently not historically accurate as to the actual construction of King Solomon’s Temple, we then must ponder their significance.
The Entered Apprentice is presented very little information about the physical structure of the lodge. Thus, one might conclude the symbolism of the ornaments (or floor) might apply to the symbolic lodge, not unlike the covering of the symbolic lodge as, “a clouded canopy, or starry-decked heavens, where all good Masons hope at last to arrive…”32 Logic would suggest three columns could not effectively support the physical walls of an oblong square building. Thus, it is reasonable to assume the supports of the lodge – Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty, are strictly symbolic.
Unbound by walls or support and covered by starry-decked heavens extending “at least double in length from east to west as the width between north and south,”33 we find the symbolic lodge may represent a very large geographic area. Street, in Symbolism of the Three Degrees, says:
“Our Monitors tell us that the form of a lodge is an oblong square from East to West and between North and South, from the earth to heavens and from surface to center. This of course, if it means anything, can mean nothing less that the entire know habitable earth and Masonic scholars universally so interpret it. This meaning was more manifest at the period when Freemasonry is supposed to have had its origin, for the then known world lying around the shores of the Mediterranean sea was literally of the form of an oblong square” 34
Street draws the conclusion that “the lodge, which is sometimes defined as the place where Masons work, symbolized the world or the place where all men work in the same way that the clouded canopy or starry decked heaven is a description that could not have the slightest application to anything else but the world.” 35
This world, according to Carl Claudy in Foreign Countries is:
“… a place of strife, of anxiety, of labor, of dissension, often of bitterness in which men strive for weapons …[but] the Masonic Lodge, symbol of the world, is also a symbol what Freemasonry believes the world can be. Here are many men, of many minds, of all religions, of all degrees of education, of all professions, of all degrees of wealth and poverty. But the strife, which is the world, is not in the Masonic world. Here all kinds of men of all kinds of ideas unite in one universal idea, practice one universal faith, without dogma and without creed. Here they forbear each with the other and reach hands across their oblong square to green their brother man, solely for what he is in reality, not for what he may have won from the profane world of money, title, power, position, prestige or knowledge.36
Rollin Blackmer in The Lodge and The Craft describes both the covering and floor of the symbolic lodge similar to Street but continues the analogy to the three principle supports of the lodge and shows how they may have been analogous to the “highest hills.” He argues that ancients considered the covering of the word to rest upon the peaks of the highest mountains. The Israelites would have considered those to be Mount Moriah, Mount Tabor, and Mount Sinai, those places where God met and talked with the prophets.37
If the floor of the symbolic lodge is the entire earth, we can further understand the symbolic relationship to a place filled with good and evil and can equate the checkered pattern to that view of the Earth when viewed from above. At only a few thousand feet above the surface, the fields and forests, mountains and plains, hills and valleys, land and waters would look like the pavement of a mosaic work. At even greater heights, the continents and seas, accented by sea currents and cloud formations, further mix to form a beautiful Mosaic pattern reflecting the great creation. The ancients thought the world to be flat, but when viewed from space, the Earth looks like a blue and white checkered
mosaic and is often referred to as “the big blue marble.”
In a like manner, the thin layer of atmosphere of mostly nitrogen and oxygen gases and suspended particles of matter covers the Earth out to about 50 miles. When viewed from space, we see it as a ring or circle resembling a beautiful Tessellated Border.
Symbolically, the Blazing Star, representing the Great Architect of the Universe’s Divine Providence here on Earth, remains in the center and reminds us that when two or more are gathered in his name, God is among them.
Earlier I said it was interesting that only three ornaments were described. Yet we may now see their larger significance as including the ornamental scheme of the whole world. The surface, the horizon, and the firmament embrace all of the visible beauty of nature and, with the formation of Tranquility Lodge elevating Texas Masonry above the Earth, they now collectively represent “the place where Masons meet for work.”
1 Monitor of the Lodge, Grand Lodge of Texas, A.F. & A.M. (Waco, Tx: Waco Printing Co., 1982), 28
3 “Masonic Service Association,” Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia
(New York: Macoy, 1961), 248
4 Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry
(Washington: House of the Temple, 1966), 14
5 John T. Lawrence, Perfect Ashlar and Other Masonic Symbols
(London: A. Lewis, 1911), 136
6 W. Kirk MacNulty, Masonic Tracing Boards and Western Metaphysical Tradition (accessed March 1, 2009); available from http://srjarchives.tripod.com/1998-10/ MACNULTY.HTM
7 Joel H. Springer, III, The Ornaments of the Lodge (accessed March 1, 2009); Available at http://www.themasonictrowel.com/Articles/Symbolism/ lodge_files/the_ornaments_of_a_lodge.htm
8 Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia, 119
9 Albert G. Mackey, An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, rev and enl by Robert I. Clegg (Richmond, VA: Macoy, 1966), 2:1080
10 Definition of indented (accessed 1 March 2009) available at http://www.thefreedictionary.com/indented
11 An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, 2:1033
12 Ibid, 1081
13 Monitor of the Lodge, 28
and Thomas Smith Webb, Freemason’s Monitor (Cincinnati: C. Moore, 1865)
14 An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, 2:1031
15 George H. Steinmetz, Freemasonry – Its Hidden Meaning – Chapter 7 (accessed March 1, 2009) available at http://www.masonicsecrets.org/ freemasonry-hidden-meaning/entered-apprentice-lecture.html
16 Allen E. Roberts, The Craft and Its Symbols: Opening the Door to Masonic Symbolism (Richmond: Va: Macoy Publishing, 1974), 32
17 J.K. Streé, The Morals of Freemasonry on The First Three Degrees (Dallas, 1911), 23
18 Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia, 99
19 Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia, 98
and An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, 1:138
20 Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, 14-15
21 Jewell P. Lightfoot, Lightfoot’s Manual of the Lodge or Monitorial Instruction in the Three Degrees of Symbolic Masonry as Exemplified in the Grand Jurisdiction of Texas, A.F. &
A.M. (Waco, Tx: Grand Lodge of Texas, 1934), 191
22 An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, 1:138
23 Ibid, 138
24 Ibid, 139
25 Ibid, 138
26 Ibid, 138
27 Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia, 99
28 The Official Monitor of the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons Of Texas, (Fort Worth, Tx: Masonic Home and School, 1921), 37-38
29 Lightfoot’s Manual of the Lodge, 190
30 Ibid, 191
31 The Morals of Freemasonry on The First Three Degrees , 23
32 Monitor of the Lodge, 27
33 Lightfoot’s Manual of the Lodge, 181
34 Oliver Day Street, Symbolism of the Three Degrees
(New York: George H. Doran Co, 1932), 7
35 Ibid, 8
36 Carl H. Claudy, Foreign Countries (Washington, DC: Masonic Service Association, 1925), 31-32
37 Rollin C. Blackmer, The Lodge and the Craft (Richmond Va: Macoy, 1976), 84