Freemasonry is a fraternal organization rich in symbolism, some of which has found its way into the popular culture. Masonic signs led the way for Nicolas Cage to find the greatest treasure in history in the 2004 movie "National Treasure," and inspired author Dan Brown's 2009 novel, "The Lost Symbol." At times, Masonic signs have been demonized and falsely linked with satanism. The symbols of Freemasonry, however, are firmly rooted in all the world's major religions. They are intended to encourage members to live helpful, honorable lives.

History of Freemasonry

Most Masonic scholars believe freemasonry began during the Middle Ages in England and Scotland as a benevolent organization of master stonemasons. The masons built castles and cathedrals, and, due to the dangerous nature of their work, they were frequently injured or killed, leaving behind widows and orphans with no means of support. Eventually, Masonic lodges were established to fill the gap. According to the Masons of California's website, "The first Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons was established in 1717 in London." Freemasonry spread throughout Europe and to the United States, where the first lodge was established in 1733. Since its inception, Freemasonry membership has been limited to men who believe in God, although no specific religious affiliation is required. Service to members and their families, as well as to the greater society, is a hallmark of Freemasonry.

History of Masonic Signs

"Freemason symbols represent the heart of freemasonry," according to the Masonic Lodge of Education's website. "Masons use metaphors from geometry and the architecture of stonemasonry to inform their continuing pursuit of knowledge, ethics, and leadership skills." While most of the symbols have spiritual, even mystical, meanings, they originated due to pragmatism: Most people in the Middle Ages could not read, and even if they could, books were rare, so they relied on symbols to communicate.

Symbols

Symbols include the Masonic Eye, a single eye with rays extending outward from the bottom of the eye, which symbolizes the eye of God, God's watchfulness and constant care for the universe. The Masonic Eye is rooted in ancient Egyptian worship of the god Osiris, who was symbolized by an open eye, as well as in Judeo-Christian scriptures, such as Proverbs 15:13, where King Solomon said, "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good." Solomon is honored in Freemasonry, as in Judaism and Christianity, for his wisdom.

Freemasonry's universal logo is the square and compass. These symbolize the Masonic imperative to "square our actions by the square of virtue with all mankind," and to "circumscribe our desires and keep our passions within due bounds," according to the Masonic Lodge of Education.

Other Symbols

Mason lodges have an altar, which symbolizes their reverence for God, whom they sometimes refer to as "the Supreme Architect of the Universe."' The Masonic Blazing Star is a symbol of God, rooted in pre-Christian religions as well as Star of Bethlehem, which is believed to have led the wise men to the newborn Jesus Christ. Freemasonry has many other symbols, all of which have specific meanings, but also "mean different things to different men; each interprets according to his best light," according to the Grand Lodge of Michigan's website.