As is usually the case after reading a good thought-provoking article, my mind begins to run that process up to 11. Such was the case when I finished Midnight Freemasons co-editor, Bro. Lahners, recently titled article: “The Circumpunct.”
What follows is not anything you’re going to read in our ritual or possibly hear others discuss. As a matter of fact, the more I probed different resources and fellow Masons, the more I found such to be nonexistent.
This doesn’t mean that I am the first or only one to ever posit it, let alone, dare declare I am correct. However, as I iterated above, I have yet to see it elsewhere.
So, with that said, here we go…
How many times has one heard the description for the symbol using the circumpunct and two parallel lines described to mean “The Holy Saints John” and that’s it? i.e., No further explanation other than who or why these particular saints, and why you should know.
In other words: the symbol is constructed for that purpose only. i.e., to aid in remembering them.
Personally, this assertion never sat correctly with me, for reasons I can’t explain other than - a gut reaction.
Then one evening I had the great fortune to tune into a presentation featuring renowned masonic scholar, Bro. S. Brent Morris via the Rubicon Masonic Society of Lexington, KY, where he expressed his own difficulty with this idea given to the symbol and its meaning.
Or, to state it differently - it may be touted everywhere, but that doesn’t mean it’s fact. And once hearing someone like Bro. Morris question the story’s validity, it then gave me license to ponder my own that seemed to be making more sense within my questioning for the “why” aspect of any symbol.
You may agree or disagree, but my hope is you’ll find my interpretations worthy of further thought and contemplation. For this began as I thought further of what Bro. Morris was explaining, who had used as his basis another work titled “The Point Within A Circle” by Bro. William Steve Burkle.
I far from think this is the last word on this or any other symbolism we interpret. As a matter of contention, I hope it makes us look at everything with fresh eyes, for we may have been missing the forest as we stood before the trees as the old saying goes. Or, should I say: “Altar within the Temple?”
We’ve all seen this image representing the symbol and its explanation such as that via Bro. Hodapp in “Freemason For Dummies” 2005, Wiley Publishing.
The reason why I would like to focus on the above is for the obvious inclusion of the Bible (or, VSL, Volume of sacred law, if you prefer). It begs the question: Why? Because sometimes it’s there, and sometimes it’s not. Again: Why?
All of our symbolism is meant to be precisely that - a symbol to describe both hidden and deeper meanings, decipherable by those that have either been instructed to its meaning or, concluded via their own deeper and well-postulated searches.
Said differently: No symbol should ever be assumed to contain a depiction (or not) haphazardly. Care should be highly weighted to the aspect that careful decision-making processes which went into the creation of the symbols via their creator.
For, if a symbol seems to not make sense, especially when reasons given leave one confused even more? If any assumptions are warranted, it’s probably safe to assume the continued confusion has more to do with how one is trying to view or fit it into the wrong constructs rather than its original intent.
Back to Bros. Morris and Burkle…
In the beginning, I referenced Bro. Morris’ description of how he viewed the symbol using his trained mathematical background while building on what Bro. Burkle proposed. It went a bit like this…
First, let’s dissect the following image into its parts and give a generally agreed-upon synopsis.
What we have here is the classic symbol we all know. And it was here that Bro. Morris built his hypothesis on top of the Bro. Burkle’s. (Fig:1)
Because, if we were to take and draw a straight line across the top of the circle (aka tangent line), regardless of tilt, crossing each of the parallel lines, something extraordinary takes place geometrically. (Fig:2)
In other words, only Fig:1 would be allowed to be seen by all. However, when a MM needed to use it for inspection, all he would need to do was draw his lines as shown in Fig:2 and Fig:3 with, say, a piece of charcoal. He could then check for alignment, pass or fail the instrument, assign a new square or call for it to be repaired et cetera. Then, with a scuff of the hand or foot, erase his inspection lines.
Master’s knowledge is once again concealed to only the Master.
This made so much sense to me I suddenly found myself beginning to add my own possible inclusions, as different things I had been researching prior, seemingly, began to jump in front of my mind and line up in a way that can only be expressed using the “dam breaking” analogy.
Here’s my first for your consideration.
I believe this (e.g., Fig:1) may be one of the most important symbols in all masonry, both speculative and operative. Here’s why…
Without rehashing all the above, I would like for you to consider the following…
With no more than a piece of string or its equivalent, one could layout in perfect form a precision inspection device to make the three most important basic working tools used to construct the ancient wonders we still marvel at today. e.g., The Plumb, Level, and Square.
Yes, it all would start with basically a string then adding a stone to first create a plumb-line. From there, you could construct all the rest. Think about it. No math required, no precise measurements, nothing more is needed. Start with a plum line and you can use that to create the rest. One builds off the other, or allows reference for the other and so forth.
And no, I’m not going to layout how. Just think about it, for it’s really not that complicated. But, once you do, its inherent genius hits one like a ton of bricks. (pun intended!)
I think there’s another reason why this observation may be important as I’ll demonstrate. Just keep in mind, that it takes a plumb-line to begin the process. We’ll see why that may have more significance as we go along. My second revelation came from the symbolic interpretations and discussions of Bro. W. Kirk MacNulty for which I am a continual student of his work. (He recently passed to the Celestial Lodge on Nov. 8, 2020)
He had posited that the symbol (Fig:1) actually represents the candidate at the altar. I believe that conclusion is absolutely correct if we use the now expanded interpretations for this symbol.
Before we move forward, let’s go back a few steps and briefly discuss what is the actual root symbol of all of them. Remember which one? Hint: the circumpunct.
Why is this so important and quite possibly the most important of all? Well, not only has it been used for millennia as a symbol for gold, but it also is used as a signifier for alchemical relationships or processes. And what is more alchemical or transformative than the man going through the degrees as to reach the sublime degree of MM? Personally, I believe, nothing is.
So, if we hold the above thoughts in our toolbox. What else could we use to help support the possibilities that not only are we on the right path for interpretation but more importantly, help solidify the reasoning for it?
Good question, let’s do precisely that, shall we?
Using Bro. MacNulty’s conclusion that indeed it may very well be the candidate at the altar. What would that look like using the same basic representation of Fig:1 and Fig:2? Well, here it is.
Now for those that noticed the top line is now level instead of tilted, there’s a reason why I used a tilted in the first (e.g., Fig:2, etc.). That was to demonstrate that you didn’t need a level line to make the square, just straight. For then the square could make it level. (Remember how we showed how one builds the other without the need for precise measurements, only precise reference points?)
So, using the above, let’s now overlay the pictorial interpretation of what this symbol may imply and see if there’s any there, there. (Fig:5)
Is it not just a bit too coincidental that this seems to be able to fit an almost exacting interpretation rooted in the symbology of a candidate at the altar using the above representation? (e.g., Fig:5)
Let’s stay sided on the pure coincidence argument for the time being and see if there’s anything more worth considering to help move a skeptics eye to more of an all-seeing one.
Speaking of “all-seeing.” Remember how I stated earlier to keep in mind why a plumb-line may show itself to be more important than originally thought? Let’s do that, but first…
Remember what a plumb-line does: It aligns the top with a bottom. That’s the most fundamental purpose, right? So, I ask, is it just coincidence if we use this fundamental tool to both speculative and operative masons, it in its most fundamental way, that it expresses the following. To wit: (Fig:6)
To reiterate: If we take and combine the very real and distinct revelations from Bros., Morris, Burkle, and MacNulty while overlaying both the pictorial representations and pointing out the hidden geometrical revelations contained within. Something completely amazing begins to reveal itself.
Your thoughts may vary or completely disagree. Yet, to me, this seems to make far too much sense via its inherent self-expression, which is always my go-to precursor of interpreting possible truth.
Let’s continue, using that backdrop, for the following representations for further contemplation. Again, to wit:
Back to the plumb-line. Notice that when we represent it precisely as its intended use, what does it fall on? Hint: Remember what Bro. MacNulty said the symbol expressed?
Here it is with the overlays. Please take note that it is also the only tool that allows not only the creation for all the others but also to perfect them in alignment as I explained prior. (Fig:9)
However, if we stick with Bro. MacNulty’s interpretation is that the original symbol (Fig:1) was representing the candidate at the altar. Then this interpretation I posit fits far better because the Holy Saints John represents (not solely) two different sides of personality traits. And if we follow that, again, basing it on Bro. MacNulty’s work with symbolism. This is precisely what is meant to be expressed via much of our symbolism contained within Lodge. Especially at the altar. Such as…
Our black and white checkered floor (Masonic pavement) representing polar opposites, good - ill, positive-negative, joy - sorrow, light - darkness, etc., etc., etc. All being restrained in balance within its tessellated border.
Columns can also be representative of the balance he (Bro. MacNulty) has expressed. As in, one pulls the other looking for and keeping equilibrium between the two.
Let me be clear: these are all general postulations I’m proposing via my own interpretations extruded from the work of others.
I’m not saying they are the correct or only ones. Your interpretations or understandings may differ.
But that’s what makes a marketplace for ideas, as they say.
I just find it extraordinarily far past the point of coincidence that all three of our most important working tools: “Square, Level, and Plumb. Represented via our most senior officers within a Lodge. Are precisely the only ones that can be expressed in perfect geometric representation for proving that the candidate at the altar, is completely square, plum, and on the level before God at the altar.
Pretty amazing coincidences if that’s all that it is, yes? This is precisely why I doubt that’s the case.
What do you think? I look forward to reading from anyone that either concurs, disagrees, or has something other to offer.
Do precisely that by either leaving your views and references in the comment section here on this website or, on any social media it may appear.
It would benefit us all.
Mark St. Cyr - Freemason