Lennox J Hernandez DistGOrator, PDistGStwd (RA)


Freemasons today need to have a sound understanding of the discipline and be aware of its many nonritual aspects, in addition to learning the rituals for Initiations, Passings, Raisings and Installations. Presently, I wish to advance the Masonic knowledge of our newer brethren on some of the basic symbols of our Fraternity. As a background we must remember that it is generally accepted that modern Speculative Masonry is either directly or indirectly descended from the stonemasons’ craft of medieval days, referred to as Operative Masonry, distinct from the later Non-Operative Masonry, and the Speculative Masonry of today. We must remember too, that some form of Speculative Freemasonry would have existed long before the formation of the earliest Grand Lodges – 1717 in England, 1725 in Ireland, and 1736 in Scotland.


Have you ever wondered why the Square and Compasses, which identifies you as a Freemason, became the key symbols of our Fraternity? Also, have you ever wondered at the colours of aprons and collars apart from white, that is, why blue and why red? In the case of the colours blue and red, the Rev Neville Cryer in his 1996 publication, The Arch and the Rainbow, notes that “a lot of time and ingenuity in discussing the origin and appropriateness of Masonic colours could have been saved …” if certain traditional facts of Operative Masonry were better known (Cryer, 27). Traditional facts of Operative Masonry would also explain the use of the Square and Compasses. For my talk today on these particular traditions of Operative Masonry being incorporated into Speculative Masonry, I will lean heavily on Rev Cryer’s publication and to a lesser extent, on a 1922 publication entitled Ancient Freemasonry: an Introduction to Masonic Archaeology by Frank C Higgins, a prolific North American Masonic writer.


Though evidence of early Freemasonry is scarce, what is available shows that the Freemasonry which developed after the formation of the first Grand Lodge in England in 1717 used many of the medieval stonemason’s tools and customs to allegorically teach moral and spiritual values; hence its description as Speculative Masonry. Our rituals tell us about the traditions of secret words and signs of recognition used by our Operative fore-fathers and of the symbolic uses of the Square and Compasses. However, it is to the actual practices of the Operatives we must turn, for any explanation on the origin of these symbols and the use of the colours blue and red, in Speculative Masonry. Bro Cryer notes that from their earliest time of existence the Operative Masons were divided into two classes – “Straight or Square Masons and Round or Arch Masons” (Cryer, 26). Some masons were less skilled and did only straight work, hence the term Square Mason, whilst those who were skilled enough produced arches and other curved work, becoming better known as Arch Masons; these latter commanding higher wages because of their greater skill. In those days when an inn displayed a sign that said “The Square and Compasses” it meant that both classes of working masons congregated there (Cryer, 27). Incidentally, each class was divided into seven grades, from Apprentice to Master Mason (see Appendix 1). According to Bro Cryer, if the young apprentice “… decided to be a Straight Mason he was given a square and if an Arch Mason the compasses” (Cryer, 27). Thus, says Cryer, “the very combination of these implements in present Freemasonry reveals that materials and customs from both classes were adapted in order to form the new practice after 1717” (Cryer, 27).


Knowing this origin of our key symbols lends more understanding to the later development, in 1751, of the rival Antients Grand Lodge whose members strongly advocated that ancient Freemasonry comprised not three, but four degrees, their fourth degree being the Order called the Royal Arch (or Holy Royal Arch). Higgins notes that the seven degrees of the Operative Arch Masons were put into three grades “Arch Masons” “Royal Arch Masons” and “Holy” or “Sacred Royal Arch Masons” (Higgins, 159) concepts which are not to be found in the three degrees of Craft Masonry, but in the Royal Arch. These omissions in the Premier Grand Lodge were noticed by the older Operative Masons, and this, together with the Irish tradition, says Cryer, “… helped in the formation of Arch Masonry and subsequently the practices of the Antients from the 1750s.” Thus, were the Antients not right in saying that the Premier Grand Lodge was not following ancient practices, because these Arch Mason traditions from operative practice were not

included in the post-1717 Freemasonry? What about the colours Blue and Red used in Craft Masonry? In Operative practice, says Cryer, “the colour of the Square Mason was blue whilst the Arch Mason was distinguished by red” (Cryer, 27). (I need to remind you that I am here speaking about English Freemasonry, not Scottish or Irish which uses other colours.) Evidence of these traditions of the old Operative Masonry is in the heraldic arms of the Operatives. A Guild of Operative Free Masons that Rev Cryer says flourished in England until about 1870 (Cryer, 25) had its original heraldic arms granted by King Edward IV who reigned 1461–1483. Cryer shows a photograph (albeit B & W) of this heraldic arms, depicting the supporting figure of a mason on

the right side holding a square and (says Cryer) having blue-facings on his jacket, whilst that on the left holds a pair of compasses and (says Cryer) has red facings on his jacket (see Appendix 2). This clearly tells us that the distinguishing colour of the Operative’s Square Mason was blue and his mason’s symbol the square, whilst the equivalents for the Arch Mason were red and the compasses. In English Speculative Masonry, we have the blue of the Master Mason and the red (with dark blue) of the Royal Arch Mason, a combination of the Operatives’ colour traditions.

Thus brethren, the inclusion of the Royal Arch as part of Ancient Freemasonry upon the union of the two Grand Lodges in 1813 was truly the union of the Square Mason and the Arch Mason, making the use of the combined Square and Compasses an appropriate symbol of the modern Fraternity, and the colours blue and red respectively, appropriate for our Lodge and Royal Arch regalia. In American Masonic practice this colour tradition is expressed in the respective nicknames, Blue Lodge and Red Lodge.


References and Reading

Beresiner, Yasha. 2005.    The 4th Degree in the Craft. Pietre-Stones Review of Freemasonry (Internet Article, Accessed 2005-04-04).

Cryer, Rev Nevelle Barker. 1996. The Arch and the Rainbow. Surrey: Ian Allan.

Dyer, Colin. 1983.            Symbolism in Craft Freemasonry. Surrey: Ian Allan.

Higgins, Frank C. 1922.     Ancient Freemasonry: An Introduction to Masonic Archaeology. Internet book

(google.co.uk) Accessed 2009-12-30.

United Grand Lodge of England. (?) The History of English Freemasonry. A Souvenir of the UGLE permanent

exhibition at Freemasons’ Hall, London.


Appendix 1

The seven Operative Mason’s grades were (Cryer, 26):

1. Apprentice to the Craft of Free Mason.

2. Fellow of the Craft of Free Mason.

3. Super Fellow, who had his mark.

4. Super Fellow Erector, who worked on the stone construction.

5. Super-intendent of the Craft, or Menatzchim.

6. Passed Master of the Craft, who had literally “passed a technical examination” to attain the position of a         Master.

7. Master Mason, or Grand Master of the Craft of Free Masons


Appendix 2

Heraldic arms of The Worshipful Society of Free

Masons, Rough Masons, Wallers, Slaters, Paviors,

Plaisterers and Bricklayers (Cryer, facing p 214)

L J Her nandez 2010-03-13