Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Sword and Trowel

The Sword and Trowel is a prominent symbol of the Cryptic Rite.  Though it is not always the case, this symbol can be displayed with the crossed Sword and Trowel within a broken triangle, within a complete equilateral triangle, and within the circle contained within the square. Most of the time it is seen as it is on the right. Let us delve into each of these symbols with the three exterior symbols: the square, the circle, and the triangle.

The Square, the Circle, and the Triangle

These three symbols have many meanings.  The square is a symbol of security and protection. According to George L. Marshall, Past Grand Commander: "The hollow square (also known as the infantry square) was a formation assumed by the infantry when threatened with a cavalry attack." As I talked about in the last Royal Arch article, the square's four sides signify completion, balance, stability, order, endurance, and the many quadrants of nature (directions, winds, elements, moon phases, and so forth).  The circle has no end and no beginning which represents infinity or eternity.  It has been to many generations a representation of the celestial and Heavenly bodies.  The circle also represents freedom, unity, completeness, and harmony. The circle is also restrictive though, as we are reminded in the 1st degree of Freemasonry and Point within a Circle whereby we are taught to restrain our passions, our prejudices, and our interests from betraying us if we were to go beyond the bounds of this line. The circle, in some cultures, represents the union between Heaven and Earth as well as the psyche. The triangle signifies divinity, harmony, ascension, illumination, and gender (depending on the positioning of the triangle). The triangle and the number 3 represents time: past, present, and future, or the beginning, the middle, and the end. Three is the first number to form a geometric shape -- the triangle.  In Christianity, we see the 3 Wise men or Magi; the 3 realms of the afterlife: Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory (Catholic doctrine); the Holy Family; and the Holy Trinity. In Masonry this number corresponds in the 3 Great Lights, the 3 Lesser Lights, the 3 Principle Officers, the 3 Great Pillars, the 3 Virtues, the 3 Principle Tenets, and the 3 Principle Stages of Human Life. The Broken Triangle represents mortality and death. This symbol is in comparison to Craft Masonry in the Broken Column.

Sir Knight Marshall also points out that the square is the "here and now of this life". I found this intriguing as I read the other day on an article about the Dualism of the Sword and Trowel, that the square is the body, the circle is the mind, and the triangle is the soul. In Buddhism, the square located in the circle indicates the relationship of the human and the divine. We also see the enlightened man within the combination of these 3 symbols; the triangle within the circle within the square.  The square is the man containing the enlightened mind and the faithful soul all within.

The Sword and Trowel

These implements, although not combined, are seen in Craft Masonry. the Sword reminds us of the Tiler and his duties to protect the bounds of the Lodge from the unworthy, uninitiated, and imposters.  The Sword, an emblem of duality, not only symbolizes security, but also light, purification, righteousness, spiritual transition, and from its double-edged, it shows us the defensiveness and destructiveness. The sword is like the mind and knowledge, without proper training and honing of skill, one can cause great damage and face many challenges.  The scholar and the master swordsman alike must be well-trained and keep their metaphorical and physical sword sharp. The Trowel takes us to the Master Mason's degree where the trowel is used as the primary working tool of the degree from which we learn to spread the cement of Brotherly Love which unities all the stones (the Brothers) into one common structure (the Fraternity). The trowel symbolizes completion (whether completion to our spiritual or temporal buildings), spiritual work, and enlightenment.

From the 46th chapter of H.L. Haywood's book "Symbolical Masonry", we see:
The Entered Apprentice, who can make only a beginning at the task of shaping the ashlar, needs only the gavel and the gauge; the Fellow Craft, to bring the stone into completeness of size and form, requires the plumb, square, and level; the Master Mason's task is to set the finished stone in its place, and bind it there, for which purpose the trowel is his most necessary tool. Therefore the Master Mason has been given the Trowel as his working tool because it is most symbolic of his function in the great work of Temple Building; when that tool has done its work there is nothing more to do, because the structure stands complete, a united mass, incapable of falling apart; the stones which were many have now, because of the binding power of the cement, become as one.
 "They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon."
Nehemiah 4:17

From Biblical accounts, Nehemiah received from Artaxerxes the position of Governor of Judea, and was permitted to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and to restore the city to its former fortified condition, he met with great opposition from the envious Governors and from the heathen tribes. The Governors used deceit and lies to attack the reputation of Nehemiah to Artaxerxes. The tribes obstructed the labor, and openly attacked them. Measures were taken to ensure that the men were armed while they worked with their working tools in one hand and swords in their other.

This Biblical telling of the armed builders is repeated by man, but particularly by Chevalier Andrew Michael Ramsay in his famous 1737 Oration and by Albert Pike in his tome "Morals & Dogma". The former stated, "this union was made after the example set by the Israelites when they erected the second Temple, who whilst they handled the trowel and mortar with one hand, in the other held the sword and buckler." The latter wrote, "Work on, the Sword in one hand, and the Trowel in the other!"  This is taken from the 15º of the Scottish Rite and Albert Pike points out that one of the lessons of this degree is "Constancy and Perseverance under difficulties and discouragement." The Sword and Trowel united remind us that while we are building our buildings through life we will be beset on all sides by the ignorant, the intolerant, fanaticism, and the tyrannical, so should we stay steadfast and overcome the opposition.

Speaking in dualism, Companion Jeff Day of Rogue Council #23, wrote the following:
Well, the Sword keeps people away, and the Trowel binds people together, so these seem to fit the description. Come to think of it, the lessons of Masonry are filled with this statements to this effect. On one hand, we are taught about the Universal Brotherhood of Mankind and on the other hand we are told to keep them in the dark concerning the secrets of Masonry.
The good Companion goes on later to talk about the emblems combined allude to a balance between Severity and Mercy.

With all these symbolic interpretations, one must also look at the basis of the degrees.  In Royal Arch Masonry we learn of the Recovery of the Lost Word and in the Cryptic Rite, we learn of the Preservation. These symbols represent Preservation through the interpretations mentioned above. Brothers, Companions, and Sir Knights remember to persevere by uniting the moral and righteous virtues that make all men great and cutting away the vicious habits that will lead us astray and betray ourselves, and to ruin of our spiritual building! 


1. "mahiao". (2008, February 28). Symbolism of Circle, Triangle, and Square. Retrieved from The Process of Doing Assignments:

2. 3 (number): Abrahamic Religions. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia:

3. Bradley, S. (n.d.). vanseodesign. Retrieved from The Meaning of Shapes: Developing Visual Grammar:

4. Circle Symbol Meaning. (n.d.). Retrieved from

5. Day, J. (n.d.). Dualism of the Sword and the Trowel. Retrieved from Rogue Council #23:

6. Haywood, H. L. (n.d.). Symbolical Masonry.

7. Marshall, G. L. (2011, March). Some Symbolic Interpretations of the Commandery Jewels of Office. Knight Templar magazine, p. 23.

8. Number 3. (n.d.). Retrieved from

9. Pike, A. (1871). Morals & Dogma. Charleston: Supreme Council of the Thirty Third Degree for the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States.

10. Sword and Trowel. (n.d.). Retrieved from The Grand Council, Royal and Select Masters of Texas:

11. Sword Symbolism. (n.d.). Retrieved from

12. Triangle Meaning. (n.d.). Retrieved from

13. Trowel and Sword. (n.d.). Retrieved from Encyclopedia of Freemasonry:

No comments:

Post a Comment