Square and Compasses
The Square and Compasses are the most universal symbols known for Freemasonry. Due to Masonic jurisdictional differences around the world, you will find limited differences depending where you are. Regardless of the differences, all Freemasons globally will recognize and know there meanings.
In speculative Freemasonry, this emblematic symbol is used in Masonic ritual.
"Square our actions by the square of virtue with all mankind”… The Square is an emblem of virtue.
"Circumscribe our desires and keep our passions within due bounds"… The Compasses exemplify our wisdom of conduct.
The “G” you might sometimes see in the center stands for God (The Creator). So, by squaring our actions, circumscribing our desires, and keeping God in the center, we find peace and Harmony. This is the Masonic Path.
From Mackey's Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Volume 2, Page 963, 1929:
A Short History About the Square and Compasses
Trying Square: In the operative stone mason era, the 90 degree angle of the square was a necessary tool used to test the accuracy of the sides of a stone to ascertain that the stone's angles matched the square's "true" right angle.
Morality: In speculative Freemasonry, the square is a symbol of morality.
Official Masonic Usage:
1. It is one of the 3 Great Lights (the Square, the Compass and the Holy Book).
2. It is the working tool of a Fellowcraft.
3. It is the official emblem of the Master of the lodge.
In each of its above roles, it inculcates (teaches) the repeated lesson of morality, truthfulness and honesty.
Common Usage: The square is so universally accepted that it has found its way into colloquial language with which we communicate on a daily basis. We have all heard the sayings: "Getting a square deal; Are you on the square? and Squaring off".
While the specific date with which the Masonic square became an official Masonic symbol is not known, it was one of the primary tools which an operative mason used in his craft.
In France, one leg is longer than the other due to the nature of its original construction (see Euclid's 47th Proposition).
The American Freemason square has equal length "legs", however it has been unnecessarily marked off in increments of inches, as if to measure length and breadth, which is not its true purpose.
An Antique Square: In 1830, an architect who was rebuilding an ancient bridge called Baal Bridge near Limerick, Ireland removed the foundation stone of the bridge and found a much eaten away old brass square. On the surfaces of its 2 legs, was the following inscription:
"I will strive to live - with love and care - upon the level - by the square." It was dated 1517.
1725: In one of the very earliest catechisms (rituals) we find these words:
Q: "How many make a lodge?
A: God and the Squares, with 5 or 7 right or perfect Masons."
1880: Excerpt from a speech delivered by Brother Herbert A. Geles, Worshipful Master of Ionic Lodge No. 1781, at Amoy, entitled "Freemasonry in China"
"From time immemorial, we find the Square and Compasses used by Chinese writers to symbolize precisely the same phases of moral conduct as in our system of Freemasonry.
The earliest passage known to me (Albert Mackey) which bears upon the subject is to be found in the Book of History, embracing the period reaching from the 24th to the 7th century before Christ. It is there, in an account of a military expedition, that we read:
"Ye officers of government, apply the Compasses!"
In another part of the same records, a Magistrate (judge) is spoken of as:
"A man of the level, or the level man."
481 B.C.: The public discourses of Confucius provide us with several Masonic allusions of a more or less definite character. When recounting his own degrees of moral progress in life, the Master tells us that only at 75 years of age could he venture to follow the inclinations of his heart, without fear of transgressing the limits of the Square."
Circa 281 B.C.: In the works of Mencius, a follower of Confucius, is a fuller and more impressive Masonic phraseology:
Book vi: "The Master mason in teaching his apprentices, makes use of the Square and the Compasses. Ye who are engaged in the pursuit of wisdom must also make use of the Square and the Compasses."
300-400 Years Before Christ: In the Great Learning, Chapter 10, believed to have been written circa 300-400 B.C., we read that a man should abstain from doing unto others what he would not they should do unto him; "this," adds the writer, "is called the principle of acting on the Square."
Of course, we are familiar with this statement today, as the Golden Rule, as also found in the Bible.
Possibly most interesting of all is the fact that the symbolism recorded of the Square permeates equally so many languages across the world, (sic: over nearly 2400 years) and, in each of them, the Square has preserved it original symbolism...as the symbol of morality."