The first time I delivered the lecture on the first degree tracing board I looked around the Temple and wondered where the blazing star was. Then I realized that there was no mention about the “G” that is conspicuously displayed in our Lodge. So I decided to do a little research. But it was far from easy. The material available is limited and very varied. There are Masonic articles and anti-Masonic articles. All are interesting. On the one hand are explanations that range from bizarre, doubtful, or dubious, through eccentric, to fantastic. On the other are those that are exotic or esoteric. I have, here, tried to separate the wheat from the chaff and arrive at a plausible explanation about what the letter G and the Blazing Star in Masonry originally represented, how they gradually changed their original meaning and their significance to the Mason today.
The origin of “G”
“…there has been very little agreement among our scholars either as to its (the letter ‘G’) origin or to its meaning. Usually, we can hit upon the manner in which a symbol was introduced into the Ritual by studying the records of the early eighteenth century in England, at which time and place the Ritual was cast in its modern form, but such a study cannot help us here because the eighteenth century Masons were themselves confused about the matter. This confusion survives to our own day with some authorities holding to one theory, others to its opposite….”, says Haywood in his treatise on Masonic symbolism and this still holds good today.
What is more interesting is that, even though it is conspicuously displayed in our lodges, the “G” has the distinction of being a Masonic symbol that does not have the characteristic of universality which the Jewels, the Furniture, or the Ornaments of the Lodge enjoy. Also, it ritually appears for the first time only in the Second Degree. The working tools, the greater and lesser lights, and the pillars, convey the same lessons to Masons in every language and Grand Lodge. But the initial “G” for God bears its interpretation primarily in English.
One of the plausible explanations is that the ‘G’ originally stood for Geometry. Historically, operative freemasonry was applied geometry and thus in ancient times Freemasonry was synonymous with Geometry. The word Geometry held an especial connotation for the Masons of c. 1400. The mason in that period had no architectural handbook, no blue prints, and no tables of construction; his art was based on Geometry alone, and his skill consisted in knowing by heart many of the processes of Geometry, and his secrets were nothing other than these same processes and the knowledge of applying them, which he did not want to share with those who were not initiated into the craft, in order to confine competition. This being the case, it was natural that the he should hold this science in high reverence and make its name, represented by its initial letter (which is the same in French, Latin, German, and English, the early Masonic languages), to serve as a symbol in his lodge.
However, a look at the oldest surviving Masonic Charge, the Haliwell Manuscript dated c 1390 casts some doubt upon such an elaborate explanation. It is true that this M. notes in its opening verses:
Yn that tyme, thro[g]gh good gemetry,
Thys onest craft of good masonry
Wes ordeynt and made yn thys manere
Y-cownterfetyd of thys clerkys y-fere;
At these lordys prayers they cownterfetyd gemetry,
And [g]af hyt the name of masonry
For the moste oneste craft of alle.
which when translated reads “In that time, through good geometry, this honest craft of good masonry was ordained and made in this manner, counterfeited of these clerks together; At these lord’s prayers they counterfeited geometry, and gave it the name of masonry, for the most honest craft of all”.
Thus, Geometry was held high esteem by the early Operative Masons. However, the M. goes on, in its later verses, to refer to God, and beseech the Masons
“Pray we now to God almight, (almighty)
And to his mother Mary bright”.
Therefore it is only by a stretch of imagination that we could conclude that the masons of those times took the initial letter of Geometry and hung it up in the Lodge to serve as a symbol of reverence. But, what is clear is that when the first glimmerings of speculative symbolism began to make their appearance in the Craft, the significance of Geometry was emphasized by the Letter G. In a c.1740 exposure, we find the following dialogue:
Phil: Why was you made a Mason?
Sim: For the sake of the letter G.
Phil: What does it signifye?
Phil: Why GEOMITRY?
Sim: Because it is the Root and foundation of all Arts and Sciences.
At the same time, the Speculative Masons began referring to God as the Grand Geometrician of the Universe in the Second Degree, and some feel that this trend helped to veer the meaning of the “G” from Geometry to God. However, we must remember that the letter G for God holds true only in English.
In a French exposure, the journey of the Fellow Craft, into the Middle Chamber of the Temple is described with the catechism –
Q. When you entered what did you see?
A. A great Light in which I perceived the Letter G.
Q. What does the Letter G signify?
A. God, that is to say DIEU, or one who is greater than you.
Since the French word for God does not commence with the letter G, this can be understood as an innovation from English catechisms. In fact, in some of the English exposures, the letter G was taken to denote “glory, grandeur and geometry. By the end of the eighteenth, and beginning of the nineteenth centuries, the letter G, at least as far as English authorities were concerned, was taken to have a symbolic meaning of God as compared to Geometry. It is these two separate notions that are still alive in the rituals as we practice them today.
During the years between 1740 and 1780 there is evidence of the G as an item of lodge furnishings, either as a pendant from the ceiling of the lodge-room, or as a template on the floor, or as part of the design of the tracing boards.
The first mention of the letter ‘G’ in extant ritual of the Grand Lodge of England is found today in the Second Degree work. At the end of the Tracing Board lecture in the Second Degree, the following statement occurs, “When our ancient brethren were in the middle chamber of the Temple, their attention was directed to certain Hebrew characters which are depicted by the letter G, denoting God, the Grand Geometrician of the Universe to whom we must all submit and whom we ought to humbly adore.”
However, a search of papers that review the available literature reveals no trace of the Letter G in the numerous English and Scottish catechisms that appeared during the years 1696 to 1730. The earliest reference, is a newspaper advertisement, in 1726, that announces that there will be several lectures on Ancient Masonry, particularly on the Signification of the Letter G.
It next appears in the “Wilkinson Manuscript” dated c 1727 as a catechism.
Q. What is the centre of yr Lodge?
A. The Letter G.
French notes that the frontispiece to Cole’s Constitutions (which was not accessible to me), which is dated 1728/29, clearly shows a letter G in the head of an arch at the right of the central figure. However, the use of the Letter G was definitely established in the Masonic ritual by Prichard in 1730. In his book we find the following catechism in the Fellowcraft Degree:
Q. Why was you made a Fellow-Craft
A. For the sake of the Letter G.
Q. What does that G denote?
A. Geometry, or the fifth Science.
Later, in the same catechism we get:
Q. When you came into the middle, what did you see?
A. The Resemblance of the Letter G.
Q. Who doth that G denote?
A. One that’s greater than you.
Q. Who’s greater than I, that am a Free and Accepted Mason, the Master of a Lodge.
A. The Grand Architect and Contriver of the Universe, or He that was taken up to the top of the Pinnacle of the Holy Temple.
Q. Can you repeat the Letter G?
A. I’ll do my Endeavour.
In the midst of Solomon’s Temple there stands a G,
A Letter fair for all to read and see,
But few there be that understands.
What means that Letter G.
My Friend, if you pretend to be
Of this Fraternity,
You can forthwith and rightly tell
What means that Letter G.
By Sciences are brought to Light
Bodies of various Kinds,
Which do appear to perfect Sight;
But none but Males shall know my Mind.
Ex. The Right shall.
Resp. If Worshipful.
Both Right and Worshipful I am,
To Hail you I have Command,
That you do forthwith Iet me know,
As I you may understand.
By Letters Four and Science Five
This G aright doth stand,
In a due Art and Proportion,
You have your Answer, Friend.
The “Letters Four” that are alluded to are probably YHWH (as explained later in this paper) and “Science Five” is Geometry, the fifth of the seven liberal arts and sciences. This, again, indicates that the ‘G’ came to signify God and Geometry. French notes that the rather archaic doggerel verse in the piece above is indicative of the antiquity of the pendant letter ‘G’ and that it is likely that the Letter G and other explanatory aspects were traditional material in Craft lore long before the Speculative expansion had begun. But this is only conjecture.
What is clear is that when the letter “G” entered Speculative Masonic rituals, it did so in the Second Degree. Later, when the two degrees were split into three, it continued to remain in the second degree. The second degree tracing board depicts the letter “G” within a six pointed star with the explanation “When our ancient brethren were in the middle chamber of the temple their attention was peculiarly drawn to certain Hebrew characters, which are here depicted by the letter G, denoting God, the GGOTU to whom we must all submit and whom we ought humbly to adore”.
The allusion to the Hebrew characters gives us an indication of how the letter G came to reside in the Star. According to ancient Jewish traditions the real name of God, given to the Jewish people through Moses, was not permitted to be written, except with the consonants J (or Y), H, W, H only. At the time of the Exile the pronunciation and consequently the true spelling, of the Holy Name was lost. The consonants, remained, but what the vowels were nobody could discover; to find the Lost Name became one of the great ambitions of Jewish priests and scholars, and this search became one of the principal subjects in the literature of the Kabbalah. Not having the Name itself the Kabbalists were wont to inscribe a Hebrew “Y” (Yod or Ghemeel) to the centre of a triangle with equal sides to depict the Name. It is possible that this symbol was brought into Masonry by the speculatives who were also Kabbalists, but that, in the course of time, the non-Kabbalist Masons who made up the greater part of the lodges in the Grand Lodge of England, substituted the English initial alphabet of ‘God’ for the Hebrew ‘Yod’.
The origin of the Blazing Star
Two ancient prints dated c 1740 show a “G” in the Center of the Lodge – in one within a diamond shaped rhombus, and in the other within an irradiated circle. French notes that the 1744 Le Catechisme furnishes an engraving depicting a combined design for the Apprentice – Fellow’s Lodge, in the center of which there is clearly visible a Letter G within a blazing star. And this is probably how the letter “G” was hung in the lodge in the late 18th century – within a Blazing Star.
One of the issues that comes up again and again is the relationship between the Blazing Star and the letter G. This Blazing Star is in drawings of the Lodge in some of the exposures, and also crops up in other publications and some of the earlier Floor Cloths or Lodge Cloths that are still extant.
The Tracing Boards themselves show a relative non-conformity in regard to this matter, because some Tracing Boards from 1801 have the letter G inside a Blazing Star on them, and some Tracing Boards up to the 1840s do not have the letter G or a Blazing Star on them.
Allusion is made to the signification of the star In the Hebrew Bible. In the book of Amos (Amos 5:26) He says to the Israelites, while reproaching them for their idolatrous habits, “But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chium, your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves.” The star was used, by the prophets of old, in their metaphorical style, as a symbol of God, and it was generally so adopted by later Masonic instructors.
The Blazing Star is not mentioned in the earliest monitors, immediately after the revival of 1717. But, in the instructions of 1735, it is detailed as a part of the furniture of a Lodge, with the explanation that the “Mosaic Pavement is the Ground Floor of the Lodge, the Blazing Star, the Centre, and the Indented Tarsel, the Border round about it!”
The Prestonian Lectures state that “The Masonic Blazing Star, or glory in the center, reminds us of that awful period when the Almighty delivered the two tablets of stone, containing the 10 commandments to His faithful servant, Moses on Mount Sinai, when the rays of His divine glory shone so bright that none could behold it without fear and trembling. It also reminds us of the omnipresence of the Almighty, overshadowing us with His divine love, and dispensing His blessings amongst us; and by its being placed in the center, it further reminds us, that wherever we may be assembled together, God is in the midst of us, seeing our actions, and observing the secret intents and movements of our hearts.”
The Blazing Star appears throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries always in the centre of the lodge, and that is where it was drawn. It must be remembered that the Lodge Cloth and the Tracing Boards were, in that period, meant to be looked down upon – being on the floor in the center of the Lodge – and up on easels not as we put our present Tracing Boards. Some of the earlier drawings have the G and the Blazing Star separate. However, gradually, these two symbols were incorporated into one and, about the same time, the general usage of G standing for God, and, specifically in the Second Degree, the Grand Geometrician came into play. This latter happened, surprisingly enough, in Europe around the 1750s and not in England until the end of the 18th century. The Prestonian Lectures note that “This symbol was a French immigrant ‑ L’Etoile Flamboyante ‑ a bright star with many points. Subsequently, however, the points were reduced to seven or five, to correspond with the seven liberal arts or the five Points of Fellowship”. This again is a pointer to the Kabbalistic origins of the star, discussed below, since Kabbalah emerged, after earlier forms of Jewish mysticism, in 12th to 13th century Southern France.
In the English Lodges, however, the Star took on a Christian perspective. In the lectures credited to Thomas Dunckerley and adopted by the Grand Lodge of England, 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.” In the lectures taught by Thomas Smith Webb in the early 19th century, and very generally adopted in the United States, the Masonic Blazing Star is said to be “commemorative of the star which appeared to guide the wise men of the East to the place of our Saviour’s nativity,” and it is subsequently explained as hieroglyphically representing Divine Providence.
“The star which proclaimed the birth of the Son of God appeared in the east. The east was an expression used by the prophets to denote the Redeemer. From thence it may well be conceived that we should profess our progress to be from thence; if we profess by being Masons, that we are a society of the servants of that Divinity, whose abode is with the Father co‑eternal, in the centre of the Heaven”
Pike notes “The Star which guided [the Magi] is that same Blazing Star, the image whereof we find in all initiations. To the Alchemists it is the sign of the Quintessence; to the Magists, the Grand Arcanum; to the Kabalists, the Sacred Pentagram.” This is an indicator that, in that period, a five pointed star was used by the Lodges.
However in 1843 the Baltimore Convention sounded the death knell of the Blazing Star as being too Christian a symbol, leaving the “G” hanging by itself in the Lodges.
Subsequently according to the lectures revised by Dr. Hemming and adopted by the Grand Lodge of England at the Union in 1813, the Blazing Star came to referred to as the Sun “The Blazing Star, or glory in the center, refers us to the sun, which enlightens the earth with its refulgent rays, dispensing its blessings to mankind at large and giving light and life to all things here below.”
According to Pike, “The Blazing Star in our Lodges, … represents Sirius, Anubis, or Mercury, Guardian and Guide of Souls. Our Ancient English brethren also considered it an emblem of the Sun. In the old Lectures they said: ‘The Blazing Star or Glory in the centre refers us to that Grand Luminary the Sun, which enlightens the Earth, and by its genial influence dispenses blessings to mankind. It is also said in those lectures to be an emblem of Prudence. The word Prudentia means, in its original and fullest signification, Foresight: and accordingly the Blazing Star has been regarded as an emblem of Omniscience, or the All-Seeing Eye, which to the Ancients was the Sun”.
The allusion to Prudence is also seen in other writings. Hutchinson writes that the Masonic Blazing Star is considered a symbol of Prudence derived from Druidic origins, “The third emanation of Abrax (God), in the Gnostic hierarchy, was Phronaesis, the emblem of Prudence, which is the first and most exalted object that demands our attention in the lodge. It is placed in the centre, ever to be present to the eye of the Mason, that his heart may be attentive to her dictates, and stedfast in her laws; for Prudence is the rule of all Virtues; Prudence is the path which leads to every degree of propriety; Prudence is the channel where self-approbation flows for ever; she leads us forth to worthy actions, and as a Blazing Star, enlighteneth us through the dreary and darksome paths of this life”.
In a later passage Hutchinson says “It has been pointed out to you, that the furnitures of the lodge are emblems excitive of morality and good government : prudence shines in the centre; or if you would apply this object to more sacred principles, it represents the blazing star which conducted the wise men to Bethlehem, and proclaimed the presence of the Son of God. It is here placed in your view, that you may remember to work out the works of salvation, which is at hand.” Thus the symbolism of the Blazing Star shifted from Kabbalistic, to Christian, and thence to Masonic.
The points of the Star
The next curious fact, to me, is that in the first degree tracing board the “Blazing Star” is seven pointed (an obtuse Septagram) while in the second degree tracing board the star is six pointed.
In the Scottish Rite the Blazing Star is depicted with 5, 6, 7 and 9 points in the various degrees. In the 8th Degree “Over the Master is a five-pointed star, with three Hebrew YODs inside”. In the 4th Degree “In the circle, three triangles are interlaced to form a white nine-pointed star. In the center of the star is a Hebrew YOD, and in the nine outer triangles are the letters E, A, J, J, Y, A, O, A, H, which are the initials of the nine sacred words.” In the 14th Degree “The jewel is a quadrant (compass open to ninety degrees) topped by a crown, and with a nine-pointed star on the obverse, and a five-pointed blazing star (with the Tetragrammaton) on the reverse.” In the 18th Degree “A seven-pointed blazing star, also with a YOD, is now atop the mountain.” In the 24th Degree “a vermillion “Blazing Star” (pentagram) in the East”. Gershom Scholem notes that both the five pointed star and the six pointed star originated in Babylon or Palestine and were endowed with magical meaning and power among the Arabs of the Middle Ages who showed a tremendous interest in the occult sciences.
The five pointed start (Pentagram) has been found on potsherds from the pre-cuneiform Uruk period of ancient Babylon. Pythagoras associated the Pentagram with “health,” “wholeness” and “blessings” and it was the Pythagorean sign of recognition and held sacred as a symbol of divine perfection. It is significant that Pythagoras appears in Indian Tantrik texts by name the name of Yavanacharya (“the Greek teacher”) and the Pentagram appears in early Hindu Tantrik writings and art. Therefore, it is open to speculation as where the Pentagram originated first, in India or Greece.
To the ancient Hebrews, the Pentagram was the symbol of Truth and it found its way onto many Gnostic amulets. The early Christians associated the Pentagram with the Star of Bethlehem which led the Magi to the newborn Christ. Later Kabbalistic Christians would associate the name of Christ in Hebrew characters, IHShVH or Yeheshua, to the five points of the pentagram.
The six pointed star was adopted by the Jews and known as “the Seal of Solomon” owing to the Jewish legend of King Solomon’s domination over the spirits through his ring with the “Ineffable Name” within the Star engraved upon it. The Christians later continued this usage. The virtue of this seal engraved with a six pointed star within which was inscribed the Hebrew ‘Yod’, was to serve as a shield against the evil spirits in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. It holds a special significance in the Kabbalah, and thus, it could have been, that the Hebrew letter “Yod” was inscribed within the six pointed star and hung in the Lodge by the early Kabaalists who became Speculative Masons.
The Seven Pointed Star, called “Faerie or Elven Star”, is a Neo-druidic symbol (also known as the gateway symbol) of the entrance between our world and that of the Faery, the Otherworld. Each point on the star represents a gateway or path of the Higher Self to prepare one for entrance into the Otherworld. The Faerie Star has been adopted by many old and newer faiths. It’s first documented use was in the Kabbalah. It was also used by Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O. or Order of the Temple of the East), an international fraternal and religious organization that originated in Germany or Austria between 1895 and 1906, and was originally intended to be modeled after Freemasonry. It was used by alchemists to represent the 7 planets and 7 elements of the Universe. Christianity has even used the star to represent the seven days of creation, and to ward off evil. Pike’s ‘Morals and Dogma’ is replete with references to Alchemy and Kabaalists especially with reference to the Blazing Star, and it could therefore be inferred, that early speculative Freemasons, who were Kabaalists, introduced the seven pointed star into the first degree ritual.
In the Scottish Rite we find the following narrative “Immediately after the death of Hiram the Builder, King Solomon selected seven of the most worthy and expert Master Masons to guard the Sanctum Sanctorum, and its “sacred furniture. Although only one guard was on duty at a time, their number was always seven — alluding to the seven cardinal virtues, the seven stages of life, the sabbath (7th day), etc……….The Lodge is hung in black, strewn with white tears. The seven-branched candlestick is burning in the East, and over the East is a large circle composed of a serpent with its tail in its mouth”. The seven-pointed star, therefore, encapsulates the hierarchical orders of classical mystical thought marked by the number seven, e.g., the seven planetary spheres governed by the seven planets of classical astrology, the seven colors in the rainbow, the seven days of the week, the seven distinct notes in a diatonic musical scale, the seven chakras of the Hindu metaphysical tradition, and the seven liberal arts and sciences of Freemasonry.
Significance to Freemasonry in India
To Masons in India the five-pointed star and the six-pointed star have special significance. The pentagram is a constituent part of Tantric iconography of the Guhyakaali Yantra of Shakthi, and the six-pointed star is an important motif in the Sudharshana Yantra (Chakra). Hindu mythology narrates that the daughter of Viswa Karma, who was the architect of the God’s, was married to Surya, the Sun God, but left him because of his immense heat. Viswa Karma then put Surya in a cage and churned him to reduce his heat. During the process the Sudarshana Chakra, Trishoola and Shakthi emanated. The Sudarshana Chakra, is depicted as a six-pointed star or Shatkona. The two interlinked triangles of the Shatkona represent Purusha (the supreme being), and Prakriti (mother nature, or causal matter) or Shiva and Shakthi and together are given the status of God. Thus, to Freemason’s in India, the six pointed star has an equally (if not greater) meaningful significance, of divine power emanating from the Sun, and it is appropriate that the letter “G” for God is inscribed within the Sudharshana Chakra for Freemason’s of the Grand Lodge of India.
Going beyond religion to the Upanishads (compiled c 800 to 500 BC) we find that the formless, wonderful, all-pervading, and indestructible Supreme Bring or Brahmaa is described as “higher than the highest, greater than the great, and naturally brilliant”. Brahmaa is light, says the Maitri Upanishad, Brahmaa, “the Limitless One,” is that “shining form which gives heat in yonder sun…. Unending are the rays of him.” Brahmaa is “self-shining,” “self-luminous,” and “shines by his own brightness.” As He shines “does everything else shine after.”
It is probably true that early operative Masons held Geometry in high esteem, but it cannot be concluded that the letter ‘G’ as hung in our Lodges was originally the initial alphabet of Geometry. It is more certain that when the new Second Degree was established in the eighteenth century and when the needs of the Craft required, the G was hung in the Lodges in England to represent God, or the Grand Geometrician of the Universe. The Blazing Star was probably introduced by the Kabbalists into Speculative Freemasonry in France to denote God, and later “imported” into England. At some point in time the Star and the “G” were merged so that the “G” came to reside in the Star and was so hung in the early Lodges of Grand Lodge of England and came to be so depicted in the second degree tracing board. The Blazing Star was depicted with five, seven, or nine points in the various degrees of the Scottish Rite. Once again the origins could be Kabbalistic since the pentagram, the septagram and the nonagram all had Deistic or powerful significance to the Kabaalists. But the seven pointed star came to stay in the first degree tracing board probably because of the significance of the number seven, especially the seven liberal arts and sciences.
The five pointed star that hung in the early Lodges, the six-pointed star in which the G resides in the second degree tracing board, and the seven pointed star depicted in the first degree tracing board, all bear strong links to Hindu tantric philosophy through Pythogoras and probably had their Masonic origins from Neo-druidism, through Kabaalism and there from into Freemasonry.
The Freemasons on the Continent of Europe, speaking of the symbol, say: “It is no matter whether the figure of which the Masonic Blazing Star forms the center be a square, triangle, or circle, it still represents the sacred name of God, as an universal spirit who enlivens our hearts, who purifies our reason, who increases our knowledge, and who makes us wiser and better men.” More particularly, the Letter G and the Blazing Star symbolize Prudence. And as Hutchinson puts it, “The emblem of Prudence is placed in the centre of the lodge, and is the first and most exalted object there : ever to be present to the eye of the Mason, that his heart may be attentive to the dictates, and steadfast in her laws; for Prudence is the ruler of all the virtues……She leads us forth to worthy actions, and as a blazing star, enlightens us through the doubtfulness and darkness of this world.”
Therefore, whatever be the origin of the Blazing Star and the letter G, today, in Freemasonry, they both symbolize the Supreme Being (Brahmaa), the Shining Form, that is Self Radiant, and irradiates everyone with The Light dispelling the Darkness within them that allow it.