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THE SACRED SYMBOL, THE LETTER “G” - October 18, 1960
PRESENTED TO: KAMINISTIQUIA LODGE A.F. & A.M. No. 584 BY SUPERIOR LODGE A.F. & A.M. No. 672
THUNDER BAY, ONTARIO
In Ontario and English Lodges, the letter “G” is found in the centre of the building, and is on every second degree tracing board. In American Lodges it is on or near the Master’s chair. In other English speaking Lodges also it usually baa a place, but is there represented by a triangle containing the Hebrew name for GOD.
The absence of the letter “G” in the appointments of foreign Lodges is a key to much of the misunderstanding surrounding the symbol. A moments’ thought will, show that “G” can be the initial letter of the word “GOD” only in English and a few other languages, such as Syrian “GAD”, Swedish “GUD”, German “GOTT”, all derived from the Persian “GODA”, itself derived from the absolute pronoun signifying “HIMSELF”. In no other ancient language could “G” mean “GOD”.
It is reasonably certain that the letter was not used in English Lodges as meaning “GOD” until late in the eighteenth century, although it was a feature of Lodges quite early in the eighteenth and possibly during the seventeenth centuries.
Doctor W. Wynn Wescott has said that the present Masonic interpretation of the letter “G” is foolish. Doctor Oliver took the symbol without question as referring to the G.A.O.T.U. But an earlier writer, William Hutchinson, “a man and a mason, whose head and heart went in unison, whose life was blameless and whose memory is still fondly regarded by Freemasons”, says in his “Spirit of Masonry”, (published in 1775 with the special sanction of Grand Lodge) that the name of GOD is only part of the Masonic import of the letter; this significant letter, he says, “denotes Geometry, which to artificers is the science by which all their labours are calculated and formed; and to Masons contains the determination, definition and proof of the order, beauty, arid wonderful wisdom of the power of GOD in his creation.
How far back the letter “G “was used as a symbol for geometry can only be guessed at, but we are told that Ptolemy’s Geography, in an edition printed at Strasburg in 1525, contains an ornamented margin which includes a pillar, a small part of the spring of the arch above it with foliage, cherub, and fluting decoration. On the base, in a panel, are the square and compasses with in the centre, the letter “G” believed to stand for Geometry. In view of the date of this, l525, Mackey’s statement that the letter “G” is a modern symbol which can be traced back to the word “GOD” and not to Geometry, is not convincing.
The Continental Masons who inscribed the name of GOD or JEHOVAH in Hebrew letters within the triangle and displayed this in their Lodges were harking back to an ecclesiastical custom of the sixteenth century.
The majority or Masonic writers believe that the letter “G” refers to Geometry, and the old catechisms also point that way. In catechisms printed in 1730 and 1766 the letter “G” is made to represent Geometry or the fifth science. Geometry the root and foundation of all the arts and sciences, and Glory, Grandeur and Geometry or the fifth science -- Glory for GOD, Grandeur for the Master of the Lodge, and Geometry f or the Brothers.
From a newspaper report of a procession of mock-masons in May of 1742, we learn that the letter “G” signified Geometry or the fifth science for the sake of which all Fellowcraft are made. So closely identified was the letter “G” with the Fellowcraft that we find him referred to as a letter “G” man.
Th. same newspaper report tells us that when the Lodge was raised from the first to the second degree, a square was placed in the centre of the blazing star so that the brethren could tell in which degree the Lodge was working. From this fact John T. Thorp draws certain conclusions in a paper presented to the Merseyside Association for Masonic Research (l924-5). It so happens, he remarks, that the old gallows square is one original form of the Hebrew ghimmel, the Hebrew character in the roof and also of the Greek gamma, both of which correspond to our English letter G. This fact may account for the gradual substitution of the letter “G” for the square.
Incidentally, the travelling square itself is made in the form of the -- old gallows square. This form was chosen in preference to any other as its designers felt that a symbolic link to the Fountainhead of all knowledge and the Grand Science upon which Masonry is founded, could best be expressed in this manner.
A sound old Masonic writer once said that much of what has been written concerning the letter “G” in Freemasonry is far more imaginative than useful. A wise view is that GOD HIMSELF and GEOMETRY have much in common and that today we may regard the symbol as standing for each and both of them. Then we shall not be far wrong when we teach the Fellow-craft that the letter “G” denotes GOD who is the G.G.O.T.U. We can quote great authorities. Sir Thomas Browne in Religio Medioi (1643) said, “GOD is like a skilful geometrician”. Plato, (four centuries B.C.), said that “GOD is a geometer”, that is, one versed in geometry. Bertrand Russell, in our own day says that the influence of geometry upon philosophy has been profound and that mathematical objects, which are eternal and not in time can be conceived as GOD’S Thoughts.
Milton, writing in the middle of the seventeenth century, must have seen GOD as the supreme Geometer when in his Paradise Lost, Book VII, he composed these remarkable lines:
Then stayed the fervid wheels, and in his hand
He took the golden compasses, prepared
In God’s eternal store, to circumscribe
This Universe, and all created things.
One foot he centred, and the other turned
Sound through the vast profundity obscure,
And said, Thus far extend, thus far thy bounds,
This be thy just circumference, 0 Worlds!