SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol.IV February, 1926 No.2
When an initiate is first brought into the light in a Masonic Lodge,
the radiance come from the Lesser Lights, which form a triangle about
the Altar. It seems, at first, rather odd that so great and
important a symbol should receive such scant attention in the
ritualistic body of Freemasonry.
We are instructed that they are called Lesser Lights, that they are
placed in a triangle, that by their light we may see other objects,
that they represent the Sun, Moon and Worshipful Master, for certain
reasons which are rather briefly explained . . . and that is all!
Later on we learn, more by example than by precept, more by custom
than by law, that Lesser Lights are always lit when a lodge is
opened. Even when their flames do not really burn (have you ever
stood at a grave side on a day too windy to permit the flickering
candle to send forth its light?) they are constructively burning.
They are supposed to be lighted as soon as the lodge is opened, and
then the Altar is arranged; to be extinguished after the Altar is
disarranged, and the Great Lights displaced. But nowhere in our
ritual are we told much of anything as to why all these things are
so; how the Lesser Lights came to be; what their hidden, covered,
secret, symbolic meaning is.
And you shall search through many a Masonic volume and tome and find
no more light on the Lesser Lights than the ritual gives. Mackey,
the great authority, is unusually brief, and beyond drawing a
parallel to the use of the seven branched candelabra as described in
the Great Light, and stating that their use in Masonry is very old,
they appearing in print in references to Masonry in the seventeenth
century, adds practically nothing to the ritual explanations.
And yet it could not be possible that so important a symbol could
have no more soul than is given in the few words we devote to it. It
seems obvious that it is one of those symbols in Freemasonry . . . of
which there are so many! . . . which the individual brother is
supposed to examine and translate for himself, getting from it what
he can, and enjoying what he gets in direct proportion to the amount
of labor and thought he is willing to devote to the process of
extracting the meaning from the outer covering.
Let us dig a bit together; labor in company is lightened always; a
burden shared is a burden halved!
Immediately after the Lesser Lights are named, our attention is
directed to the fact that they are in a triangle about the Altar. In
some Jurisdictions they are closely about the Altar; in others, one
is placed at each of the stations of the three principal officers.
In some lodges the three Lesser Lights form a right, in others an
equilateral; in others an isosceles triangle. What is uniform
through out the Masonic World is the triangular formation about the
Altar; what is different is the shape and size of the triangle.
Of course, it is not possible to place three lights to form anything
else but a triangle, or a straight line; they cannot be made to form
a square or a star. Which brings us to the first place in which to
sink our Masonic shovel; why are there three Lesser Lights, and not
two or four?
There are a number of reasons. Any thinking brother has already
discovered that there is "Three" throughout the whole system of
Ancient Craft Masonry; three degrees, three steps, three ancient
Grand Masters; and so on. It will be no surprise to recall that
three is the first of the great Sacred Numbers of the ancient
Mysteries, and that it is the numerical symbol of God. Not, if you
please, because God was necessarily considered triune.. While many
religions of many ages and peoples have conceived of Divinity as a
trinity, the figure three as a symbol of God is far older than any
trinitarian doctrine. It comes from the triangle, which is the first
possible figure made up of straight lines which is without either
beginning or ending. One line, or two lines have ends. They start
and finish. The triangle, like the square or the five or more sided
figure, has no loose ends. and the triangle is the first of these
which can be made; as God was always considered as first; and also as
without either beginning or ending, the triangle itself soon became a
symbol of Deity.
Sun worship was among the first of religions; let him who knows lay
down the facts as to whether sun worship preceded fire worship, or
fire worship that of the sun. To us it does not matter. Sun worship
is far, far older than any recorded history; it goes back, far back,
into the first dim mists which obscure the very first beginnings of
intelligence. So it was only natural that the early worshipers
should set a light beside their Altar or Holy place and name it for
Ancient peoples made much of sex. Their two greatest impulses were
self-preservation and mating. Their third was protection of
children. So enormously powerful were these impulses in primal man,
that not all his civilization, his luxury, his complicated and
involved life, have succeeded in removing these as the principal
mainsprings of all human endeavor. It was natural for the savage
worshiper of a shining God in the sky to think he, too, required a
mate; especially when that mate was so plainly in evidence; the moon
became the Sun's bride by a process of reasoning as plain as it was
Father, Mother . . . there must be a child, of course.
And that child was mercury, the nearest planet to the sun, the one
the God kept closest to him. Here we have the origin of the three
Lesser Lights; in earliest recorded accounts of the Mysteries of
Eleusis ( to mention only one) we find three lights about the Holy
Place, representing the Sun, Moon and Mercury.
Albert Pike says: "They are still the three lights of a Masonic
Lodge, except that for Mercury, the Master of the Lodge has been
Albert Pike was a very great and a very learned man.
To him Freemasonry owes a debt greater, perhaps, than to any other
who ever lived; he gave her study, he brought forth her poetry, he
interpreted her symbols, he defined her truths, he made plain much
that she had concealed. But Pike himself defended the right of
Masons to study and interpret the symbols of Freemasonry for
themselves. So that it is with no though of controversy with the
immortal dead that many contend that there is no absurdity in
Freemasonry taking the ancient lights which symbolized the Sun, Moon
and Mercury, and making them stand for the Sun, Moon and Worshipful
Master of His Lodge.
For the Sun and Moon give light. While it is true that there is no
real "regularity" with which the Moon "Governs" the night . . . since
the night gets a along just as well without the Moon as with her . .
. she does give light when she is present. There is no question that
the Sun Governs and Rules the day. And the Sun, of course lives
light and life as well.
The Worshipful Master rules and governs his lodge as truly as the sun
and Moon rule the day and night. There can be no lodge without a
Worshipful Master; he is, in a very real sense, the lodge itself.
There are some things he cannot do that the brethren, under him, can
do. But, without him the brethren can do nothing, while he, without
the brethren's consent or even their assistance, can do much. It is
one of the principal functions of the Worshipful Master to
disseminate light - Masonic Light - to his lodge. That the duty is
as often honored by neglect as by performance has nothing to do with
the fact that it is a duty.
So that the inclusion of a symbol of the Worshipful Master, as a
giver of light, is to most of us neither fanciful nor absurd, but a
logical carrying out of that Masonic doctrine which makes a Master a
Giver of Light to his brethren.
The ritual instructs candidates that they behold the Great Lights of
Masonry by the illumination of the Lesser Lights. This is an actual
fact, but it is also a symbol. The Great Light cannot be read
without light; the Square and Compasses cannot be used in the dark;
and neither can be understood, nor can we make any use of them for
the noble and glorious purposes taught us in Speculative Masonry,
without we receive symbolic light, Masonic light from the East; that
is, from the Worshipful Master, or those he delegates to bring that
"Good and Wholesome Instruction" which is at once his duty and his
A lesson is taught in the references to regularity of the heavenly
luminaries, as guides for the government of a lodge by the worshipful
Master. The fact that the Moon is not "Regular" in her attendance
upon the sun, or the night, and the she does not, in any such sense
as does the sun, "govern" that period of darkness in which she
appears, in no way detracts from the force of these admonitions. For
these phrases are very old, and go back to a time when men knew much
less of astronomy than they do today; to a time when the moon, in
popular belief, had much greater powers than she actually possesses.
We know the moon to have almost no effect upon the earth, as far as
our lives are concerned, save as she makes the tides. Our ancient
brethren believed her light to be full of weird and wonderful powers;
"Moon-Struck" and "Lunatic" (from luna, the moon) are symbol words of
these ancient and now exploded beliefs. Less than two hundred years
ago, many crimes, misdemeanors, beneficent influences and beautiful
actions were ascribed to the moon; things evil had to be done "in the
dark of the moon;" witches were supposed to ride in moonlight; dogs
bayed at the moon because by its light they could see what was hidden
from mortal eyes; sheeted ghosts preferred moonlight to star light;
incantations were never properly recited unless in the moonlight, and
the moon gave or withheld crops, influenced the weather and, when
eclipsed, foretold disaster.
With such a body of belief it is not surprising that the moon was
considered, even by the educated, to have "governing" powers, whence,
probably, her inclusion with such abilities into our ritual.
That we know better is in no sense antagonistic to our use of the
old, old phrase in our ceremonies. We know better about many things.
The knowledge of the art of architecture as set forth in the Middle
Chamber lecture would get no one a job as office boy in a builder's
office today. Our penalties, never enforced by Masons, are wholly
symbolic. We have many other ways of transmitting intelli-gence
today which are not included in a list of ways of writing and
printing. But we love and repeat the old ritual because it is old;
because it is a bond with those who have gone this way before us,
because it is the time-tried and well-trusted way of making Masons,
and we would not alter it; no, not for any modern phrases, no matter
how deep in erudition they were steeped.
And so we continue to have our moon "govern" the night, and do it
"regularly," too, finding in this a bond with other men of other
times something dear and precious, none the less that the words
portray only a fancy.
Indeed, the whole matter of the Lesser Lights is such a bond, and
such a fancy. It would be far more accurate if we repeated "The
Lesser Lights represent the Sun,, the Earth and the Moon. As the
sun, in its gravity, causes the earth to revolve around it in three-
hundred and sixty-five and a fraction days, and the moon revolves
about the earth in approximately twenty-eight days, so the earth is
never without government and light, as all lodges should also be."