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The Three Great Lights

By WBro. Wayne Spring


Beacon Court Lodge 1967 IPM and Lodge Mentor

Pentangle Lodge 1174 - JD

East Kent Masters Lodge 3931 - Steward

Norman Chapter 3502 Principal Sojourner

Word count: 1,540


THE THREE GREAT LIGHTS

The Three Great Lights the fundamental objects in Freemasonry. To the uninitiated this

bears no meaning; to a brother a way of life. Their importance is highlighted when the

Worshipful Master directs attention to the Three Great Lights in Freemasonry, the VSL, The

Square and the Compasses. The most important of these is the Volume of the Sacred Law1,2

an indispensable part of the Lodge. The open Bible signifies that we should regulate our

conduct according to it. The teachings are to rule and guide our faith, a symbol of man's

acknowledgment of his relationship to Deity. Upon the formation of the United Grand Lodge

of England, the first Constitution detailed the important relationship in the Aims and

Relations of the Craft3.

Without familiarisation to the BoC4, a brother understands the importance of the VSL from

the ritual. A newly made brother is not presented a copy of the BoC until the end of the

initiation degree. During the ceremony he will be informed that It teaches us the important

duties we owe to God, to our neighbour and to ourselves.5 The candidate is informed that it

is the unerring standard of Truth and Justice and that it is to rule and govern our faith.

1
Hereinafter referred to as the VSL.
2
No matter what religion
3
The first condition of admission into, and membership of, the Order is belief in the Supreme Being; the Bible,
the Volume of the Sacred Law, is always open in Lodges. Every candidate is required to take his obligation on
that book or the Volume that is held by his particular creed to impart sanctity to an oath or promise taken upon
it - Book of Constitutions Aims and Relationship of the Craft accepted by the Grand Lodge, September 7,
1949 paragraphs 3 & 4.
4
Hereinafter referred to as the BoC.
5
First Degree Charge normally orated by the Junior Warden.
The original Grand Lodge of England was formed in 17176 in London. In 1751 a second

Grand Lodge was also established7,8. The Moderns regarded these as the furniture of the

Lodge. To the Ancients these three emblems were known as the Three Great Lights 9. When

the two Grand Lodges were united in 1813 and the Lodge of Reconciliation revised the

ritual10, both Grand Lodges agreed that the three emblems would be referred to as the Three

Great Lights as well as the furniture of the Lodge11.

The Volume of the Sacred Law / Bible

Our oldest Masonic documents make no reference to the Bible, possibly because no part of

the Bible was printed in English prior to 152512, and the first complete Bible in English was

not printed until 153513. At this point in history a Bible was rarely found outside a

Church. The term VSL first appeared in the Old Charges in the Grand Lodge No 1 Manual

Script of 158314 as an essential part of the equipment of the operative Lodge. It is the

Greatest of the three Great Lights. It is considered that it pours forth light from the East

across the Lodge. But what is Light? Masonically speaking Light means knowledge.

6
On 24 June 1717 four London Lodges, which had existed for some time, came together at the Goose and
Gridiron Tavern in St Pauls Churchyard, declared themselves a Grand Lodge and elected Anthony Sayer as
their Grand Master. This was the first Grand Lodge in the world. Taken from the UGLE web-site history of
freemasonry
7
A rival Grand Lodge appeared in London. Its original members were Irish Masons who claimed that the
original Grand Lodge had made innovations.
8
The older Grand Lodge came to be known as the Moderns, the latter the Ancients.
9
Information gathered from a lecture delivered by WBro. Mike Neville (Province of Sussex).
10
It also revised the regalia worn by Freemasons.
11
Whilst the same implements they would have different symbolism attached to them.
12
William Tyndale Tyndales New Testament became the first printed edition of the scripture in the English
language.
13
Myles Coverdale (who worked alongside William Tyndale) completed the translation of the Old Testament
following the death of Tyndale and printed the first full English translation on the 4 October 1535.
14
Masonic Lodge of Education www.masonic-lodge-of-education.com
The VSL records the Will of God. From this book the teachings are conveyed and no more

are these teachings conferred but in the first degree charge. It symbolises Trust, Justice and

the way in which Masons conduct their lives by the divine precepts contained. For hundreds

of years Freemasons have applied its teachings.

The Square

The Square is prominent throughout the rituals and ceremonies of Freemasonry and is the

second of the Great Lights. It is normal for this implement to be displayed with the

compasses15. During the initiation ceremony, the candidate is informed that the Square

should remind him of his conduct in life16.

The importance of the Square cannot be understated it is the emblem that is associated to the

Master of the Lodge, being the implement which forms the rude and proves the perfect mass,

is well applied by Master Masons to inculcate the purest principles of piety and virtue.

Masonically speaking, it should be the guide of all your actions17. The Square is also

identified as one of the Working Tools of the Fellowcraft Mason.

From time immemorial the Square has represented right and honesty. For Freemasons, the

Square represents morality. Alongside the VSL it reminds Freemasons that God provides

15
Debate has raged as to whether the term is compass or compasses. VW.Bro.I.J. Nathan G.L. - The Waikato
Lodge of Research, No. 445 A.F. & A.M. New Zealand. See also The UGLE Book of Constitution - BASIC
PRINCIPLES FOR GRAND LODGE RECOGNITION - Accepted by the Grand Lodge, September 4, 1929 item 6
states that the Great Lights are the VSL, Square and Compasses. Therefore the author will refer to the
Compasses as such. The debate on the term is outside the scope of this paper.
16
See First Degree Charge (To your neighbour, by acting with him on the square..) also see the Inner
Workings, (The Square will teach you to regulate your life and actions according to the Masonic line and rule).
17
Inner Workings of a Board of Installed Masters.
instruction to man to develop his moral and spiritual character, while the Square reminds us

that we must constantly test our behaviour by the Square. It is difficult to explain to non-

masons though the recent initiative released by the United Grand Lodge of England 18 to try

and dispel the myths and conspiracy surrounding Masonry is about explaining what

Freemasonry does in making good men better. Freemasonry is not just about regurgitating

ritual in our ceremonies, it is more than that and something that we should never forget. It is

a way of life; allowing the mason to act by the moral and ethical code set out in ritual.

Within each of us we have our own Square essentially our conscience. We apply this in

every thought, word or deed.

The Compasses

The third of the Great Lights is the Compasses. The Compasses are there to educate Masons

in the duty we owe to ourselves. We are taught that we must keep our desires within due

bounds, self-reverence and control. Without such a restraint on our mind / deeds it could lead

our lives to chaos. The restraint is needed to ensure that there is a balance between our

relationship with God, our neighbour and ourselves.

The Compasses also act as a conduit for the mind. We hear the term daily advancement in

Masonic knowledge and this implement aids in this. Through the three degrees the position

of the compasses is changing which represents the knowledge that is shed on each brother

through Masonry, enabling him to ascertain greater understanding. In the first degree both

points of the compasses are hid beneath the square. This demonstrates that during this stage

18
VW.Bro. Nigel Brown Grand Secretary of UGLE press releases in March 2012 and the openness of
Freemasonry.
he has no knowledge and is born into the understanding of Masonry19. In the second

degree a point is disclosed, which symbolically means that the brother has gained some

knowledge but is yet to be fully educated in Masonry20. It is not until the third degree that

the brother is shown both points of the compasses alluding to the completion of the circle; in

the allegorical sphere of the Craft this demonstrates that the brother has gained sufficient

knowledge of the stages of life to undertake life according to the divine practices of the three

Great Lights.

Summary

The Great Lights are therefore a vital part of Freemasonry today as they were yesterday and

for our future. They symbolise how we should regulate our life and actions, it could be

deemed a philosophy in which to live. It is a way of life and by following the simple yet

important guidance laid out before every Lodge and accordingly every Freemason we can

improve ourselves and that way maintain our altruistic devotions which is admired in

Masons.

19
Represented by the rough ashlar.
20
Represented by the smooth ashlar. The Fellowcraft Mason in this degree has shown the desire to gain more
light a greater knowledge and understanding of Masonry.
BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. Book of Constitution by the United Grand Lodge of England -

http://www.ugle.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/boc-online-craft-rev-6.pdf

2. Emulation Ritual and Taylors Revised Ritual

3. The Illustrated Books of Signs and Symbols by Miranda Bruce-Mitford

4. Turning the Hiram Key: Rituals of Freemasonry Revealed by Robert Lomas

5. Symbolism in Craft Freemasonry by Colin Dyer

6. A Guide to Masonic Symbolism by Duncan Moore

7. Making Light by Julian Rees

8. I Just Didnt Know That by Rev. Neville Barker Cryer

9. Perfect Ashlar and Other Masonic Symbols by John T. Lawrence

10. http://www.masonicworld.com/education/articles/COMPASSES-OR-COMPASS-

WHICH-IS-CORRECT.htm

11. http://www.mastersjewel.com/masons/symbols/sandc.htm
12. Lessons Taught by the Three Great Lights

http://www.phoenixmasonry.org/three_great_lights.htm

13. English Bible History - http://www.greatsite.com/timeline-english-bible-history/

14. Various papers / articles on http://www.quatuorcoronati.com/

15. http://www.ugle.org.uk/what-is-masonry/history-of-freemasonry/

16. Compasses or Compass? Which is correct? By VWBro. I. J. Nathan - The Waikato

Lodge of Research, No. 445 A.F. & A.M. New Zealand. -

http://www.masonicworld.com/education/articles/COMPASSES-OR-COMPASS-

WHICH-IS-CORRECT.htm

17. WBro. Mike Neville Province of Surrey and a member of the Duchy of Cornwall

Lodge (London). Lecture given at a Duchy of Cornwall Lodge.