Freemasonry is one of the largest secret societies in the world. An ancient fraternity with an age-old reputation, jewelry has been popular amongst its members for hundreds of years, symbolizing the wearer's loyalty to their values as well as to the brotherhood. Decorated with many symbols specific to masonry and to different roles, degrees, lodges, and rites across the world, masonic jewelry can be full of hidden meanings and secrets...
A Georgian silver Masonic pendant/medal, c.1790. The first side depicts the traditional Freemason Compass imposed above various symbols like a ladder and a sword, as well as the sun, pillars, and an altar. The words 'Amor, Honor et Justitia' are shown on a banner meaning Love, Honor, and Justice - the Motto of the Grand Lodge of England until 1813. A further banner states 'H. Bowers - Lodge no. 58'. The other side shows a knight in armor standing with a coffin as well as a ladder, a book, and many more symbols
From Antique Silver
What is Masonry/Freemasonry?
The society of Freemasonry, or Masonry, comes from the guilds of stonemasons and cathedral builders from the Middle Ages. The first-ever recorded minute of a Masonic meeting is from 1599 by The Lodge of Edinburgh No. 1, and it was supposedly Scottish Freemasons who built the White House in Washington. Traditionally, the society is a fraternal organization (only open to men), seeking to combine charity work, moral teachings, and education to enable men to better themselves. It is said to be a society for 'men of good character' from all different backgrounds to meet and exchange ideas, provide support, offer friendship, and be guided on a personal journey of growth.
Freemasonry is not a religious institution, though it's often mistaken for one, especially given its focus on charity work and the almost cultish nature of their carefully guarded rituals and ceremonies (and I really do mean guarded - a Freemason/Mason of high rank wearing a sword often guards the door). It is a condition of membership to believe in a 'Supreme Being' or 'Supreme Architect' as well as the immortality of the soul, but this is not meant to impact individual faith (although by nature of these requirements it excludes some religious beliefs). Some lodges have historically been charged with religious or racial prejudice, but freemasonry is supposed to be centered around inclusivity (at least for all men).
The traditions of Freemasonry are founded upon the building of King Solomon’s Temple, and most symbols used in Masonic jewelry reflect either this, metaphorical uses of the tools of the original stonemasons, belief in the 'Supreme Being', or themes of brotherly love. In the 17th and 18th centuries, some lodges adopted the rites and looks of ancient religious orders or chivalric brotherhoods, creating many additional unique symbols and motifs. These symbols were and still are worn on jewelry from pins and pendants to rings, orbs, and other transforming pieces.
That said, the symbols found in masonic jewelry are many and are quite unusual so can be hard to decipher. Even amongst different groups of Freemasons the meanings of many symbols are disputed. As a very rough guide to understanding some of the values and messages hinted at by masonic symbols, here are some of the most common ones used in jewelry and what they might mean.
This Georgian gilt metal Masonic pendant is covered in cut paper and applied Masonic symbols like the all-seeing eye, crescent moon, seven stars, heavy setting maul, Jacob's ladder, square, triangle, blazing star/sun, trowel, plumb, chequered pavement, two pillars, and coffin, c.1800-1820
A Georgian Freemason/Mason box, c.1819, with a fitted lid embellished with symbolic Freemason imagery including square and compass, two pillars, sun and crescent moon, sword, ladder, and the all-seeing eye
From Antique Silver
Square and Compasses
The Square and Compasses, or set square and compass, emblem is one of the most common symbols of Freemasonry, and the meaning is very literal. The square is 'to square their actions', and the compasses are to measure the ability to act wisely within the bounds of morality. In short, it's a reminder for the Freemasons to explore their interests and passions within the realms of moral behavior.
A Masonic signet ring with a nicolo intaglio depicting the Square and Compasses motif within a corn sheaf border, the latter representing the rewards of the fruits of labors. 15 karat gold, with hand-chased shoulder detailing, c.1870 - From Butter Lane Antiques
Victorian 18ct gold Masonic ring with an opening compartment, c.1880. The top is engraved with a set square and compass within a decorative oval border. The shoulders also have decorative engraved detail
An oval openwork Masonic symbolic jewel, c.1823, by Thomas Harper. Emblems include a compass, square rule, and level, modeled to both sides, with three large brilliants
Sometimes the Square and Compasses have a 'G' in the middle of them. This is apparently a distinctly Scottish symbol. There is a lot of disagreement over what this G means. Some believe it represents God, or the Great Architect of the Universe. Others maintain that it stands for Geometry, the 'noblest of sciences'. Some think it is instead 'Gnosis', meaning the knowledge of spiritual mysteries, or that it denotes the value of '3' from ancient Hebrew, a significant number in the context of talking about God.
An Orange Lodge Georgian collar Jewel depicting the compasses and square and a sun on a five-pointed star with G above - silver, inset with paste brilliants - engraved on the reverse, 'PRESENTED TO BRO JOSEPH DODD AS A MARK OF ESTEEM FROM THE MEMBERS OF THE PRIDE OF OLD BRUNSWICK FEMALE R.O.L. NO 11.' c.1790. The Pride of Old Brunswick was established in Liverpool in 1875. The Orange Lodge is not Masonic but many freemasons are members. It's a protestant-only organization, however, leaving it open to accusations of Sectarianism
A giant Masonic brooch with a moonstone moon's face and other Masonic symbols. It belonged to Alvin Nusbaum, Grand Master of the Amicable St. John’s Lodge, one of the oldest Masonic (Freemason) Lodges in Maryland, established in 1797. Dated January 8th, 1920
The symbol of two pillars links directly to the building of Solomon's Temple. The pillars represent the pillars of Boaz and Jachin, which stood in front of Solomon's Temple, the first Temple in Jerusalem. The pillar on the left is Boaz, which signifies 'strength', and the pillar on the right is Jachin, signifying 'to establish'. When shown together they combine to mean 'stability'.
An antique Masonic pendant dating from the late 18th-century mounted in high carat gold with a man’s silhouette to the back. There are many different Masonic symbols on this pendant, including two pillars
A Masonic badge in openwork gold, set with table-cut garnets and an oval surround decorated with emblems of Freemasonry: two pillars, level, trowel, gavel, hammer, square and compasses, plumb rule, sun, crescent moon, and Volume of the Sacred law. Early 19th-century
The 'All-Seeing Eye', also known as the 'Masonic Eye' or 'Eye of Providence', represents the eye of God (or the Supreme Being), who is always watching, seeing all actions and thoughts. It's a very ancient symbol not exclusive to Freemasonry, dating back to the ancient Egyptian use of the Eye of Horus, and has been used by many organizations and groups to symbolize the watchful eye of God.
Georgian Masonic miniature locket, inscribed 'Charity is Kind', 'Sept 4 WM Davis PG Lodge No.1, 1827' and on the back 'Bible', 'Peace with all nations', and, 'Faith, Hope and Charity'
Blazing Star / Sun & Crescent Moon
The Blazing Star has multiple disputed meanings. Some say that it represents the Freemason’s journey, using the blazing light of knowledge to guide him like a star blazing in a dark night sky. Some think it represents Freemasonry at its highest peak, or a beacon of truth. For others, it represents the Master of the Lodge who sits in the East part of the lodge - which is why it often appears on Masters' jewels.
In Freemasonry, the moon can mean a lot of different things, but for many it represents the Senior Warden who sits in the West part of the Lodge.
Georgian Masonic glazed miniature pinchbeck mourning brooch with sun or blazing star, crescent moon, and presumably a volume of the sacred law, c.1800
Trowel, Gavel, Level & Plumb Rule
These are all tools traditionally used by stonemasons, but with metaphorical meanings for the Freemasons/Masons. The trowel symbolizes the 'spreading of the cement of brotherly love and affection', uniting all the members of the Masonic family, wherever they may be in the world.
As for the gavel, there are two common meanings ascribed to it by the freemasons/masons. The first is that it represents the authority of the Freemason/Mason wielding it, or the Master of the Lodge's power over the assemblage. The second is that it metaphorically mirrors the stonemason's gavel, but instead of chipping away at stone it symbolically chips away at the flaws and vices of the wearer, eventually shaping a spiritual being that it is pleasing to 'the Creator'.
As for the level and the plumb rule, the level represents equality and diversity within the brotherhood - rich and poor, high and low, prince and pauper, all meeting with equal respect – while the Plumb Rule is a symbol of rectitude, integrity, and uprightness of moral character.
Gold ring, set with emeralds and rose-cut diamonds in silver collets, the bezel in the form of a shell filled with Masonic emblems, the shoulders set with emeralds, made in England, 1725-75
A late 18th-century Masonic badge in openwork silver set with garnets and pastes, decorated with emblems of Freemasonry: viz, segment, level, trowel, gavel, coffin, square and compasses, plumb rule, crescent moon, Volume of the Sacred Law, All-seeing Eye
An antique Masonic pendant featuring an assortment of stonemason tools within a gold chain border, with an enameled Eye of Providence nestled at the bottom. Modeled in 14 karat gold, c.1890
From Butter Lane Antiques
The Masonic symbol of the ladder either has 3 rungs symbolizing the cardinal virtues of 'Faith, Hope, and Charity', or seven rungs adding four more cardinal virtues of 'Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice'.
The Volume of the Sacred Law
The 'Volume of the Sacred Law' is the Masonic term used for whatever texts are displayed during a Lodge meeting.
Latin mottos are commonly seen on Masonic jewelry. Common examples include:
• "Aude, vide, tace" - "To hear, to see, to be silent".
• "In hoc signo vinces" - "By this standard, conquer".
• "Spes mea in deo est" - "My hope is in God".
• "Virtus junxit mors non separabit" - "Whom virtue unites, death shall not separate".
Other common symbols include triangles, the 24-inch gauge, setting maul, mosaic pavement/chequered floor, trestleboard, and swords.
Masonic Jewelry with a hidden secret
Given that the freemasons/masons are a secret society with guarded rituals and ceremonies, it makes sense that they might favor jewelry with a secret - looking like a pretty ornament from the outside and opening to reveal its masonic truth within.
Masonic Orbs, also known as Golden Globes, Cross Fobs, or Masonic Balls either open out into the shape of a cross, or a 5 pointed star, which can represent membership of 'The Order of the Eastern Star'. Freemasons wore these discreetly as pendants, charms, or fobs.
Three Masonic 9-carat orbs that open to create a five-pointed star, engraved with Masonic symbols
A Victorian Masonic orb pendant that opens into five segments, all hand-engraved with masonic symbols, creating a five-pointed star, c.1890 - From Butter Lane Antiques
Victorian 9 karat rosy-yellow gold Masonic orb that unfolds into a cross engraved with symbols
From Lang Antiques
A late-Victorian orb that folds out into a cross shape formed by six pyramids showing a variety of Masonic symbols The original Freemason owner will have worn this to discreetly show their membership
From Wharfedale Antiques
Other Transforming jewelry
Masonic ring with a secret compartment, signed and dated 1919
Degrees & Rites
Lodges are the name for local units or groups of Freemasons. These lodges are usually supervised at a regional, provincial, international, or state level by a 'Grand Lodge'. In 1717 the first Grand Lodge was founded in England, but Freemason lodges date back to the 13th century in some places, like in Germany.
In most lodges in most countries, there are three major degrees of Freemasonry that can be earned by members: Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft/Journeyman, and Master Mason. Once a member has become a Master Mason, some like to wear personalized Master Mason rings.
A Free Mason
Behold a Master-Mason rare;
Whose mystic Portrait does declare;
The Secrets of Free Masonry.
Fair for all to read and see;
But few there are to whom they're known;
Tho' they so plainly here are shown.
- A Masonic Poem via Masonic Lodge of Education
In many lodges, there are tens or hundreds more specific degrees that branch from these three major ones. They vary from country to country but include some fascinating titles like 'Master of the Brazen Serpent' or 'Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret'. Master Masons may also choose to join 'Rites', which offer them specific pathways for continuing their masonic education. Each rite has its own set of unique symbols. Often Master Masons might wear their Master Mason ring on one hand and their Rite ring on another.
The Scottish Rite is one specific pathway for Master Masons, whose symbols include the double-headed eagle and/or Yod (a hebrew letter corresponding to the English letter J, and representing the first letter of the name of the Supreme Being). The double-headed eagle is an ancient symbol that predates the Freemasons by a long way, but the Scottish Rite use it to symbolize the 'dual nature of the individual man and the Masons brotherhood as a whole', and also to represent the unification of opposites.
York Rite/Knights Templar
In some countries, the Knights Templar is part of the York Rite, while in others it's a separate order. Upon becoming a Knights Templar, members may wear Knights Templar jewelry.
There are many different roles within Freemasonry, and these are often denoted with specific symbols or 'jewels'. These symbols are often found on masonic jewelry.
A Past Master's breast jewel that belonged to Robert Burns (1759 – 1796). Interestingly, Robert Burns was never actually Master of his Lodge, as in those times only men from the Gentry could become Master. Burns was the poor son of farmers, so only ever received the title of Depute Master, although he chaired most of the meetings for his Lodge. He did the hard work, but never got the reward for it
A Georgian Masonic Secretary/Scribe's jewel, by Thomas Harper - crossed quills tied with a ribband, London hallmark for 1797. Thomas Harper (1744-1832), himself a Mason, established a reputation as one of the best makers of Masonic Jewels in London
In addition to the main lodges and grand lodges of Freemasonry, there are other subordinate social or recreational groups associated with Freemasonry, particularly in the United States.
Badge of the Noble Order of Bucks with a painted enamel roundel of a buck in a landscape and a motto, 'HONOUR THE REWARD OF VIRTUE' in gold letters on blue ribbon within a sixteen-pointed silver star set with white pastes. The back is counter-enameled in blue-grey, c.1770
The Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (also known as the "Shriners") is a group of Freemasons specific to the US who have their own symbols, host recreational events such as balls and golf tournaments, and hold fun and fellowship as key principles. Founded in the late 1800s, they often wear fezzes and have been known to wear their own 'Shriner' rings. The Scimitar & Crest is their symbol. The scimitar stands for the backbone of the fraternity - its members - and the crest is composed of two claws, a sphinx, a five-pointed star, and the phrase 'Robur et Furor', which represent philanthropy, the governing body of the Shriners, the thousands of children helped by their philanthropy, and 'Strength and Fury', respectively.
In Britain, there are certain lodges for women, like the Order of the Eastern Star, which is open to women who are relatives of master masons as well as men. In France, after the 19th century, a 'Co-Freemasonry' or 'Le Droit Humain' was founded admitting both women and men. In the 1900s, the Order of DeMolay and the Order of the Builders were created for boys between the ages of 12 and 21, and the Order of the Rainbow and the Order of Job's Daughters was founded for girls of the same age.
To wrap up, here's a piece of Masonic art. How many Masonic symbols can you see in it?
(Answers: Sun, Square, Plumb Rule, Master's Jewel, The 24 inch Guage, Setting Maul, Mosaic Pavement,
Trestleboard, Boaz and Jachin Columns/Pillars)