The knotted rope is an ancient Masonic
Symbol commonly associated with the Tessellated Border[I],
which in modern times is represented by a series of contiguous equilateral
triangles extending around the perimeter of the Lodge floor[II].
speaking on the Tessellated Border states:
“The French call it "la houpe
dentelee," which is literally the "indented tessel"; and they describe it as "a
cord forming true-lovers' knots, which surrounds the tracing-board.”
“The Germans call it "die Schnur von
starken Faden," or the "cord of strong threads", and define it as a border
surrounding the tracing-board of an Entered Apprentice, consisting of a cord
tied in lovers' knots, with two tassels attached to the ends.”
“The idea prevalent in America, and
derived from a misapprehension of the plate in the Monitor of Cross, that the
tessellated border was a decorated part of the Mosaic pavement …does not seem to
be supported by these definitions. They all indicate that the "tessellated
border" was a cord.”
The story of the transformation of the
tessellated border from wavy knotted rope used as a frame for the Tressel Board
to its modern configuration as a skirt for the Lodge Floor appears to be
shrouded in the mists of time and is mired in conjecture. The generally accepted
explanation is that the modern configuration may be attributed to errors in
translation, or even illiteracy. In depictions of the knotted rope version of
the Tessellated Border, the Masonic “Love Knot” or “Infinity Knot” is the type
of knot employed. Also called the “Figure Eight” knot, examples of this knot
have been found in Egyptian Middle Kingdom Burial sites[IV]
incorporated into anklets and bracelets.
It is the premise of this paper that
there may be another explanation for the change in form of the knotted rope from
the Tressel Board to the Lodge floor skirt which is based upon esoteric
symbolism and associated rationale. This paper will deal with this symbolism and
will examine the esoteric characteristics and uses of the knotted rope both in
non-Masonic traditions as well as in Masonic tradition. It will conclude with
speculation that the reconfiguration (if such a change indeed did occur) of the
Tessellated Border from Tressel Board frame to Lodge Floor Skirt may have been
due to its perceived or intended esoteric purpose.
Knotted ropes and cords have been used
for centuries for pragmatic applications such as counting[V],
as memory aids for prayer recitation[VII],
and for simple binding and tying. It could easily be said that knot tying may
have been one of the major developments in the advancement of mankind, perhaps
even overshadowing the invention of the wheel in terms of its impact.
that during the period in which man was learning to domesticate animals the rope
became the very symbol of his mastery of brute nature. Consequently, the rope,
or cord, came to acquire very early symbolic and mystical meaning.
Since early antiquity, knotted cords
have been used for magical purposes; primarily purposes associated with the
binding capability of knots. In this regard knots were viewed to hold the power
to bind or store spells and enchantments until they were released through the
act of untying. An example includes the magical “wind knots” used by sailors[IX].
Wind knots were normally tied in groups of three, and were used to bind winds
which could later be called upon when needed. Release of the first knot was
believed to activate a moderate breeze, release of the second, a strong breeze,
and release of the third knot caused a heavy wind. Other variously cited and
beneficial uses of Knot Magic include the curing of fever, alleviation of
diseases of the groin, prevention of scarlet fever, and keeping a person out of
Because of their association with
binding, knots were often viewed to restrict, impede, or constrain certain
events such as childbirth, marriage, and death. It is
that in 1705, two persons were condemned to death in Scotland for stealing
charmed knots which were subsequently used to interfere with the marriage of
Spalding of Ashintilly. In 1718 the parliament of Bordeaux sentenced a person to
death by burning for having spread desolation through an entire family by the
use of knotted cords. Knot magic was also used for other malevolent purposes;
such as causing impotence in men, or to surreptitiously prevent a desired
In the tradition of the religion of
Islam, there is a story that the Prophet was bewitched and was rendered very ill
by a man whose daughters tied a spell into a cord using 11 knots. God sent the
Angel Gabriel to the Prophet[XI]
carrying two Chapters containing 11 verses and revealed where the Prophet could
find the cord. The Prophet recited the 11 verses of the two Chapters over the
knots and at the end of each recital one knot was untied by powers unknown. As
soon as all eleven knots were untied the prophet was cured of his bewitchment.
Magical Knot tying in Islam is a serious offense. Even in Christianity, Priests
and Ministers wear collars, but eschew ties, a tradition ostensibly based upon
an aversion to Knot Magic. In the Hebrew religion[XII]
the “tallith”, or prayer shawl contains eight tassels, each tied with five
knots. Using the system of Kabalistic Gematria, 8 + 5 sums to 13; the numerical
Gematria value of the word “tzitzit”, which is the collective term for the eight
tassels is 600. The sum of 13 + 600 is 613, the total number of precepts in the
Torah. Nearly every major religion in the world can be shown to have practices
or traditions relating in some way to knot magic.
The Masonic Love Knot
The Love Knot, Knot of Hercules,
Infinity Knot, or Figure of Eight Knot is described[XIII]
as a continuous knot having the form of a figure-eight which originated as a
healing charm in ancient Egypt. It well known for it’s use in ancient Greece and
Rome as a protective amulet or as a wedding symbol. Other sources identify the
Love Knot to be an adaptation of one of the eight Buddhist symbols having origin
in Tibet. Various interlocking Celtic knots also bear a striking resemblance to
the Love Knot. Figure 1 illustrates the form of the Masonic Love Knot. The
crossing strands in a love knot are viewed[XIV]
in Celtic lore to depict the spiritual meaning of life. The symbolism of the
knot has survived well beyond its ancient origins, and was a very common symbol
in medieval and Renaissance love tokens.
Knotted Ropes and Cords
In Freemasonry there is a very strong
parallel between the Love Knot and the “Chain of Union” According to Bro. Carlo
“This ‘chain’, is actually a rope,
which, circumvests the inner walls of the Masonic Temple in its upper part. Its
“elevated location” gives it a celestial connotation, confirmed by the twelve
knots that appear at intervals all along said rope, and, which, symbolize the
twelve signs of the zodiac. These knots also correspond to the twelve columns
that, except in the East side, surround the Inner Sanctum of our Temples in its
entirety. Five of these columns are situated in the North, the other five in the
South, and the remaining two, “Jachin” and “Boaz”, in the West.”
Bro. Martinez Jr. further states
(regarding the Chain of Union):
This emblem is, indeed, the
“celestial frame” which limits, separates, and protects “The World of Light”
from “The World of Darkness”; the Sacred from the Profane.
The reader will recognize that the form
taken during the Chain of Union is one in which the crossed arms and grasped
hands of the participants form a series of connected love knots. Brother Shawn
Eyer in his Paper on the Mosaic Pavement[XVI]
also notes the astrological associations of the knotted rope in the Emulation
Rite, which developed following the 1813 union of the Antients and the Moderns.
“The indented or Tessellated border
refers us to the planets, which in their various revolutions form a beautiful
border or skirtwork round that grand luminary, the Sun, as the Other does round
that of a Freemason’s Lodge.,,”
Brother Albert Pike also made allusion
to the knotted rope and it’s parallel to the Chain of Union when he wrote:
"...a man’s intellect is all his own,
held direct from God, an inalienable fief… if the stream be but bright and
strong, it will sweep like a spring-tide to the popular heart. Not in word only,
but in intellectual act lies the fascination. It is the homage to the Invisible.
This power, knotted with Love, is the golden chain let down into the well of
Truth, or the invisible chain that binds the ranks of mankind together."
No description of an esoteric function
served by the Masonic Love Knot (other than the mentioned astrological
association) is to be found in Masonic literature; however the exoteric
explanation is that the knots represent the bond of love between brothers. It is
the Author’s view that the esoteric value of the knots as symbols of unity,
strength, and infinite love are self-evident.
The Masonic Knotted Rope
reports that the earliest recorded use of a Masonic Knotted rope may have been
that of an 81 knot Rope dated August 23, 1773. However, during research for
this paper a story[XVIII]
was located in which a Clockmaker in1986 discovered and restored a rare
Neuchâtel Masonic clock dated by Josué Robert as being circa 1749. This clock
was adorned with a Knotted Rope along with other symbols such as a skull & bones
and Square & Compasses. Further research identified a Tapestry entitled “The
Hunt of the Unicorn”, one of seven Tapestries of similar theme, often
referred to as the “Unicorn Tapestries”. This tapestry, dating from
1495–1505, and currently on display at The Cloisters shows a group of
noblemen and hunters in pursuit of a unicorn.. An analysis of these Tapestries[XIX]
reveals significant Masonic symbolism, including that of the Knotted Rope.
The form of the Tassellated
Border applied as a Tressel Board Frame is illustrated in Figure 2.
Brother Gabriel Vasile Oltean provided an excellent description of the Knotted
Cord used as a border within a Lodge Room in a recent article[XX]
in Masonic Forum magazine. He wrote:
“A red cord with 12 knots in the
shape of a recumbent 8 (the symbol of the infinite), called the knots of love,
surrounds the temple and ends above the two Pillars upon the entrance (Boaz and
Jachin), in laced tassels. The twelve knots of the cord remind us of the twelve
Gates of Jerusalem, the cubic city where each side measured 144 cubits (12 X
12). The text of the Apocalypse states that this number is a Number of Man and,
by this very reason, a Number of Angel.”
A similar description of the
knotted rope discovered during a visitation to a Masonic Lodge in Portugal[XXI]
is provided by Brother Norman Ryder. Brother Ryder writes:
“A large rope (about 5/8 inch) was
on the wall around the lodge with knots in it every so far. They also wear ties
with a rope and knot configuration but I do not know the story behind the knots
It is notable that image of the wavy
cord containing love knots was at one time prominently assocciated with Masonic
Symbolism, as is evident from Figure 3, which shows the use of the Knotted Rope
as artwork on a record album cover for Brother Mozart’s Masonic Music, produced
between 1964 and 1968 when Peter Maag served as chief conductor at the Volksoper
Knotted cords and ropes find extensive
use in both folk magic and various forms of ceremonial magic as a protective
ward or boundary against evil, especially during sacred rites. I believe the
Masonic knotted rope Tessellated border serves in this capacity. While there is
controversy concerning the Masonic origin and evolution of the Tessellated
border, there are a number of authoritative references which suggest that its
original purpose was to serve as a protective instrument. The MacBride Ritual[XXII]
for example states:
"You will see that our carpet has a
tessellated border, which represents the divine protection encircling
In The Master Key[XXIII],
a scholarly paper reputed to present the form for the prestigious Prestonian
Lectures, Dr. John I. Browne states (concerning the Tessellated Border) that it
"…the kind care of Providence which
so cheerfully surrounds us and keeps us within its protection ..."
In its capacity as a protective bounding
device the Tessellated Border also exhibits certain parallels to the “Point
Within a Circle”, within the boundary of which no Mason is able to error.
Given the historical esoteric
significance of knotted ropes it is not surprising that our Tessellated Border
ended up being used on the Lodge Floor as a protective boundary between the
profane world and our sacred rites. I would submit to the reader that a
reconfiguration of the Tessellated Border did not occur because of a
misinterpretation of the word “Tassellated”; rather the Border was, and always
had been, intended as a protective enclosure for the Lodge room.
In closing I remind the reader that if
you wake up with knots in your hair, it's said that the fairies have played with
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