The Letter G
THE SHORT TALK BULLETIN
The Masonic Service Association of the United States
VOL. 5 July 1927 NO. 7
Even a stranger, entering a Masonic Lodge room, as he may do on a public occasion, must be struck by a mysterious Letter which hangs over the chair of the Master in the East. No one need tell him its meaning; it is a letter of light and tells its own story.
Yet no stranger can know its full import, much less how old it is.
Indeed, few Masons are aware of all that it implies, either as symbol or
history. There it shines, a focus of faith and fellowship, the emblem of
the Divine Presence in the Lodge, and in the heart of each Brother
When the Lodge is opened, the mind and heart of each member should also
be opened to the meaning of the great symbol, to the intent that its
light and truth may become the supreme reality in our lives. when the
Lodge is closed, the memory of that Divine initial and its august
suggestions ought to be the last thought retained in the mind to be
In English Lodges its meaning and use are made clearer than among us.
There it shines in the center of the ceiling of the room, and the Lodge
is grouped around it, rather than assembled beneath it. Below it is the
checkerwork floor, symbol of the vicissitudes of life, over which hangs
the white light of the Divine guidance and blessing, so much needed in
our mortal journey.
Also, in the Degrees its use is more impressive. In the First and Second
Degrees the symbol is visible in the roof, or sky, of the Lodge, like a
benediction. In the Third Degree it is hidden, but its presence is still
manifest-as every Mason knows-since the light of God is inextinguishable
even in the darkest hours. In the Royal Arch it becomes visible again,
but in another form and in another position, not to be named here.
Thus, in the course of the Degrees, the great Letter has descended from
heaven to earth, as if to show us the deep meaning of Masonry. In other
words, the purpose of initiation is to bring God and man together, and
make them one. God becomes man that man may become God-a truth which
lies at the heart of all religion, and most clearly revealed in our own.
At bottom every form of faith is trying to lay hold of this truth, for
which words were never made.
In all the old houses of initiation, as far back as we can go, some one
letter of the alphabet stands our as a kind of Divine initial. In the
Egyptian Mysteries it was the solar Ra, symbol of the spiritual Sun
shining upon the mortal path. In the Greek Mysteries at Delphi it was
the letter "E"-Eta-the fifth letter of the Greek Alphabet, five being
the symbol of man, as evidenced by the five senses.
Hence also the pentagram, or five pointed star. In olden time
Fellowcraft Masons worked in groups of five, and five Brethren now
compose one of their Lodges. Plutarch tells us that in the Greek
Mysteries the Letter Eta was make of wood in the First Degree, of bronze
in the second Degree, and of gold in the third-showing the advance and
refinement of the moral and spiritual nature, as well as the higher
value to the truth unfolded.
Many meanings and much history are thus gathered into the Great Letter,
some of it dim and lost to us now. In our Lodges, and in the thought of
the Craft today, the Letter G stands for Geometry and also as the
initial of our Word God. Now for one, now for the other, but nearly
always for both, since all Masonry rests upon Geometry, and in all its
lore Geometry is the way to God.
Of the first of these meanings not much needs to be said. In the oldest
Charges of the Craft, as in its latest interpretations it is agreed that
Masonry is moral geometry. What was forefelt by philosophers and mystics
in ancient times is now revealed to us by the microscope. It is an
actual fact that Geometry is the thought-form of God
in nature, in the snowflake and in the orbits of the stars.
Since this ancient insight is confirmed by the vision of science, in the
most impressive manner the great Letter may stand as the initial of God,
not alone by the accident of our language, but also and much more by a
faith founded in fact. There is no longer any secret; it cannot be hid,
because it is written in the structure of things, in all the forms which
truth and beauty take.
Nor does Masonry seek to hide the fact that it rests on God, lives in
God, and seeks to lead men to God. Everything in Masonry has reference
to God, every lesson, every lecture, from the first step to the last
degree. Without God it has no meaning, and no mission among men. It
would be like the house in the parable, built on the sand, which the
flood swept away. For Masonry, God is the first truth and the final
Yet, as a fact, Masonry rarely uses the name of God. It uses, instead,
the phrase, the Great Architect of the Universe. Of course such a phrase
fits into the symbolism of the Craft, but that is not the only-not,
perhaps, the chief-reason why it is used. A deep, fine feeling keeps us
from using the name of Deity too often, lest it lose some
of its awe in our minds.
It is because Masons believe in God so deeply that they do not repeat
His name frequently, and some of us prefer the Masonic way in the
matter. Also, we love the Masonic way of teaching by indirection, so to
speak; by influenced and atmosphere. Masonry, in its symbols and in its
spirit, seeks to bring us into the presence of God and detain us there,
and that is the wisest way.
In nothing is Masonry more deep-seeing than in the way in which it deals
with our attitude toward God, who is both the meaning and the mystery of
life. It does not intrude, much less drive, in the intimate and delicate
things of the inner life-like a bungler thrusting his hand into our
No, all that Masonry asks is that we confess our faith in a Supreme
Being. It does not require that we analyze or define in detail our
thought of God. Few men have formulated their profoundest faith; perhaps
no man can do it, satisfactorily. It goes deeper than the intellect,
down into the instincts and feelings, and eludes all attempts to put it
Life and love, joy and sorrow, pity and pain and death, the blood in the
veins of men, the milk in the breast of woman, the laughter of little
children, the coming and going of days, all the old, sweet, sad human
things that make up our mortal life-these are the bases of our faith in
God. Older than argument, it is deeper than debate; as old as the home,
as tender as infancy and old age, as deep as love and death.
Men lived and died by faith in God long before philosophy was born, ages
before theology has learned its letters. Vedic poets and penitential
Psalmists were praising God on yonder side of the Pyramids, in Egypt,
five thousand years ago, a poet king sang of the unity, purity and
beauty of God, celebrating His presence revealed, yet also concealed, in
the order of life.
No man can put such things into words much less into a hard and fast
dogma. Masonry does not ask him to do so. All that it asks is that he
tell, simply and humbly, in Whom he puts his trust in life and in death,
as the source, security and sanction of moral life and spiritual faith;
and that is as far as it seeks to go.
One thinks of the talk of the old Mason with the young nobleman who was
an atheist, in the Tolstoi story, War and Peace. When the young count
said with a sneer that he did not believe in God, the old Mason smiled,
as a mother might smile at the silly saying of a child. Then, in a
gentle voice, the old man said:
"Yes, you do not know Him, sir. You do not know Him, that is why you are
unhappy. But He is here, He is within me, He is in you even in these
scuffing words you have just uttered. If He is not, we should not be
speaking of Him, sir. Whom dost thou deny?"
They were silent for a spell, as the train moved on. Something in the
old man touched the count deeply, and stirred in him a longing to see
what the old man saw and know what he knew. His eyes betrayed his
longing to know God, and the old man read his face and answered his
"Yes, He exists, but to know him is hard. It is not attained by reason,
but by life. The highest truth is like the purest dew. could I hold in
an impure vessel the pure dew and judge of its purity? Only by inner
purification can we know God."
All these things-all this history and hope and yearning which defines
analysis-Masonry tells us in a shining Letter which it hangs up in the
Lodge. It is the wisest way; its presence is a prophecy, and its
influence extends beyond our knowing, evoking one knows not what
memories and meditations. Never do we see that great Letter, and think
of what it implies, that we do not feel what Watts felt:
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope in times to come.
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.