The origins of the Square and Compasses

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As Masons, we are used to seeing the square and compasses symbol. Whether we are identifying it while passing a Masonic building or proudly pinning it to our suit, this Masonic emblem is forever imprinted on our minds. There is no doubt that “The square and compass is the single most universally identifiable symbol of Freemasonry.”

Origin of the Symbol

The exact origin of the square and compasses symbol (or more accurately, a square and set of compasses joined together) is unknown. The symbol’s origin is theorized to have come from the stonemasons’ guilds during the middle ages. In fact, most language and symbolism used in our fraternity comes from this era.

Seen on numerous structures around the world, the square and compasses symbol with a G in the middle instantly marks a building as a Masonic entity. The start of this Freemasonry logo dates as far back as the 1780s, but its earliest known appearance, without any Masonic context, can be found in a book that was printed in the early sixteenth century. However, most Masonic scholars do not consider this relic to have any connection to Freemasonry.

The compass in the square and compasses came from the idea of “keeping within compass” which is from an old rhyme: “By honest and industrious means, we live a life of ease, then let the Compass be your guide and go where’er you please.” In the 1700s, this phrase and ideology was widely known, and there were many objects such as teapots, plates, and engravings that adopted this symbology as decoration without any connection to Freemasonry. “Keeping within compass” meant that you were on the right path and behaving in the proper fashion. The fraternity soon after adopted this theme, and it has become the basis for the standardization of Masonic values today.

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Meaning of the Square and Compasses

The square and compasses are architect’s tools, and many say that the commonly seen G in the middle represents geometry. Geometry is known to uncover the relationship of objects and the wonders of nature. Some also say the G represents God, as it is a fundamental belief of Masons to believe in the existence of God. The entire square and compasses as a whole is said to have a number of different meanings, representing a combined sense of judgement, balance, and stability.

The Square and Compasses Today

There is no doubt that the square and compasses Masonic symbol is transcendent in nature and has stood for a tradition and set of values that has remained stationary throughout time. This symbol can be found all over the world on buildings, pin lapels, promotional items, book covers, and Masonic regalia such as aprons, chapter pennies, hats, and gloves. It truly is a symbol that unites the fraternity all over the globe and shares a promise of justice, truth, and Brotherhood.


Research material provided by the Scottish Rite Museum and Library via the work below:

Philalethes, Volume 65, No. 3, summer 2012, Developing a Symbol, The Square and Compass with the Letter G in American Freemasonry, Aimee Newell