Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Three Great Lights of Masonry and Freedom of Religion

One of the most prominent images on the patent is the altar. It's shown four different times. Each time the altar is portrayed with a Bible, a square and compasses on it. These are known as the Three Great Lights of Masonry. They are always present on the altar when a lodge is open.

Click on the pictures for larger images

The Degree Manual of the Grand Lodge of California has the following to say about the Bible on the altar:

Altars shown on the patent

The Volume of the Sacred Law (VSL) is an indispensable part of the furniture of a lodge. The Grand Lodges of the United States use the Holy Bible as the VSL on their altars. In our jurisdiction, a candidate may request to have his own sacred book present on the altar with the Bible during his degree ceremonies. In some lodges in other countries, other sacred texts are placed on the altar in place of the Holy Bible...
In some jurisdictions, any sacred text that's meaningful to the initiate will do. I've sat in lodges in the Middle East that had a Bible, a Torah, and a Koran all on the altar. This religious tolerance may have contributed to the forefathers, (several of whom were Masons), of the United States' addition of the freedom of religion to the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution.

Interestingly, no one is allowed to discuss religion or politics in an open lodge. Also interestingly, Masonic lodges throughout the world offer safe places for the exchange of ideas and cultures.


Gingerman said...

Religion and Politics, at the time of the organization of the UGLE, 1717, was a quick way to prison, financial ruin, or even execution. The Civil War (English) had just ended, a King executed and as in any civil war, father fought son and brother fought brother. Religion and Politics could destroy any fraternity. Freemasonry wasn't immune from these problems, and so outlawed these discussions.

Toleration is perhaps understating the goal of this policy. Toleration implies a hierarchy of belief. "Mine is right, but I'll put up with yours." What's at work in Freemasonry is a complete freedom of conscience in this regard, with no implication of what's right.

So mote it be.

Hamilton said...

Thanks for the great comment! I wasn't aware of that part of the historical background.