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
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
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
And [g]af hyt the name of masonry
For the moste oneste craft of alle.
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,
And to his mother Mary bright”.
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
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
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:
Why was you made a Fellow-Craft
For the sake of the Letter G.
What does that G denote?
Geometry, or the fifth Science.
Later, in the same catechism we get:
When you came into the middle, what did you see?
The Resemblance of the Letter G.
Who doth that G denote?
One that's greater than you.
Who's greater than I, that am a Free and Accepted Mason, the Master of a Lodge.
The Grand Architect and Contriver of the Universe, or He that was taken up to
the top of the Pinnacle of the Holy Temple.
Can you repeat the Letter G?
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.
The Right shall.
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
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
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!”
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”
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.