Masonic Miscellanies


Extract: An Interpretation of Our Masonic Symbols
By J.S.M Ward
London, A Lewis, 1948

These emblems are associated with the Junior and Senior Wardens respectively, and we shall see that whether we regard them solely from the Operative standpoint, or probe deeper into their inner significance, we find that they are most appropriately emblematical of the functions of these officers.

In mediæval days the Wardens were superior foremen, and their duty, as Wardens, was to check and test the work of men employed in building the church.

The Master’s duty was to prepare the plans, as did H.A.B., and though no doubt from time to time he inspected the work, in the ordinary course of things he relied on his Wardens, who with plumb and level tested the walls and pillars as they rose from the ground, to see if they were true.

Applying this idea to a modern speculative Lodge we may say that, while it is the duty of the Master to outline the work of the Lodge during his year of office, and decide when he shall initiate, pass, or raise men, it is the duty of the Wardens to supervise details.

Similarly, each man may consider that while it is the Divine Spark within him which calls forth his initial effort to improve himself spiritually, his soul and body must co-operate in order to make that aspiration a reality.

But when we turn to consider the inner meaning of these emblems, we shall find certain features which perhaps we had hardly thought existed. In other works, e.g., the series dealing with the meaning of the three degrees, I have pointed out that the Master represents; (a) God the Creator;  (b) the Spirit in Man; the S.W. represents (a) the Destructive or Transformative of the Deity, Shiva, and (b) the soul in man; while the J.W. represents (a) the Preserver, Vishnu, and (b) the body in man.

The functions of these officers and their duties confirm this view.

For example, it was the J.W. or third Grand Master at the building of K.S. temple who died, in man it is the body that dies, whilst among the Hindus it is Vishnu the Preserver who is slain.

In a modern Lodge we are told that it is the J.W. who should see to the bodily needs of the brethren.

It is he who calls them from labour to refreshment, and at the installation he is specifically told that it is his duty to supervise the dinner after labour.

But the same dual character is also depicted in their emblems, for the plumb-rule is synonymous with the triangle whose point is downwards, while the level is a triangle with the point upwards.

The straight perpendicular line is the caste mark of Vishnu and the triangle is His emblem.

Vishnu By Gita Press Gorakhpur
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The Triangle of Water

This is the triangle of water and at once reminds us of the J.W.’s, P.W., or the P.W. leading to the second degree.

It symbolises the rain which falls from heaven, without which there would be no corn to feed men.

Without rain life could not be preserved on earth. It is therefore peculiarly appropriate as the emblem of the J.W., who represents God the Preserver, ever willing to sacrifice Himself to save and preserve mankind.

But the J.W. also represents the physical body, which needs bread and water to preserve it. Nor must we forget that Vishnu is Lord of the South and represents the sun at noon.

The S.W., however, represents Shiva, Lord of the West, the Ender of Life; He who shall close the Lodge of the World which He shall one day whelm with fire.

His caste mark consists of level horizontal lines and the triangle of fire (point upwards), which a represents the flames which leap upwards towards the sky when the dead are burned in His honour.

His is the C.T. of death, but the moon is also His emblem and He is usually depicted with it on His head, just as our associated with the moon.


Shiva By Iqbal Mohammed
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The P.W. leading to the third degree may rightly be called the S.W.’s P.W. and is obviously associated with the use of fire.

The emblems of water and fire play their part in the final tragedy, but it is the spirit armed with the emblems of man’s animal passions which completes the dread work.

Yes, it is the animal passions in their crudest form, not the gavel, which bring about the final catastrophe.

In this chapter I have been obliged to write less frankly than in the first two, because I am dealing with some of the most precious secrets in Freemasonry, but I trust that my readers will be able to follow me.

To summarise the meaning of these symbols, let me say that the plumb-rule is but the triangle of water slightly disguised.

It symbolises God the Preserver, whether we call Him Vishnu, Quetzalcoatl (in Mexico), or Christ.

It is most appropriately applied to the J.W., who symbolises this aspect of God and also the body in man.

For the J.W.’s work of looking after the bodily needs of the members of the Lodge would soon cease if it were not for the water which comes from heaven and enables the earth to bring forth plenty to sustain and preserve life on this planet.

The Triangle of Fire

The level not only reminds us of Shiva, the Great Leveller, whose caste mark consists of horizontal lines, but also His triangle of fire.

Fire is His element with which He shall one day destroy the earth, just as the S.W. closes the Lodge.

The S.W.’s P.W. carries with it a hidden reference to fire, and that officer’s association with the moon is paralleled by the fact that the moon is the emblem of Shiva.

Just as the three tau crosses of the W.M. become united in the jewel of the R.A., so the two triangles of the Wardens are likewise united.


Holy Royal Arch Chapter Breast Jewel
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

On studying that jewel we find that these two triangles are placed within the circle of the Infinite, and have at the centre a point.

The whole emblem is the symbol of Trimurti, the Three in One of the Hindus, and just as the united taus symbolise something far more exalted than the three separate taus, so the double triangle surrounded by the circle implies the complete unity and absorption of the Preservative and Destructive sides of the Deity into the Creative, to form the All Embracing.

There is still deeper meaning in this jewel which cannot be discussed in this chapter, but sufficient has been said to show that the two triangles of the Wardens are carried forward into the R.A., their inner meaning being exalted in the process.

Triple Tau

These triangles also play their part in our aprons, and will be considered in the chapter which deals with that subject.

All we will say about them now is that there, too, they symbolise water and fire, but they also symbolise something deeper, a deeper meaning which does not attach to them in the humbler form of the plumb-rule and level.

Did you know ?

The plumb in plumb bob derives from Latin plumbum (‘lead’), the material once used for the weighted bob at the end. The adjective plumb developed by extension, as did the noun aplomb, from the notion of “standing upright.”




Article by: J. S. M. Ward

John Sebastian Marlow Ward (22 December 1885 – 1949) was an English author who published widely on the subject of Freemasonry and esotericism.

He was born in what is now Belize. In 1908 he graduated from the University of Cambridge with honours in history, following in the footsteps of his father, Herbert Ward who had also studied in history before entering the priesthood in the Anglican Church, as his father had done before him.

John Ward became a prolific and sometimes controversial writer on a wide variety of topics.  He made contributions to the history of Freemasonry and other secret societies.

He was also a psychic medium or spiritualist, a prominent churchman and is still seen by some as a mystic and modern-day prophet.

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