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Article # 16
Number Three

Author: W.Bro.S.Ramaswamy P.Vp.G.Std    Posted on: Sunday, June 16, 2002
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Number Three

W.Bro.S.Ramaswamy P.VP.G.Std

Mackey in his “ Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry” has recorded that “every where among the ancients the number three was deemed the most sacred of the numbers”. According to Plato the number three was the Image of the Supreme Being. While agreeing with Plato, Aristotle has urged that the number three contains within itself, the beginning, the middle and the end and that way represents the Supreme Being. The Ancients held the number in great veneration and sacred and the attributes of the Gods were recorded in terms of three. Man’s earliest symbol of the Deity was an equilateral triangle and the number three is the numerical symbol of the said triangle. It was the most sacred number at the dawn of civilization.

The thunderbolt of Jove was three forked. The scepter of Neptune was a trident. There were three Fates and three Furies. The Sun had three names, Apollo, Sol, Liber. The Moon’s three names were Diana, Luna and Hecate. Virgil had declared that God delights in an odd number. The preferred number for most of the incantations was three. The Druits had throughout their invocations referred to the influence of three. They held the number as so sacred, that all their sacred poetry was composed in triads. All the mysteries from Egypt to Scandinavia had a sacred regard for the number three and all their deities were in triads. Osiris, Isia and Horus in Egypt, Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in Hindu theology, Father, Son and the Holy Ghost in the Christian Trinity, Ormuzd, Mithras and Ahriman in Zorastrian theology, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades in Greek theology, Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto in Roman theology, Hu, Ceridwen and Crierwy in Celtic, Woden, Friga and Thor in Gothic, Odin, Vile and Ve in Scandinavian, Vitzliputxli, Kaloc and Tescalipuca in Mexican theologies point out that the system of triads was very predominant and prevalent in all the old religions and the number was mystical besides being sacred and was considered the symbol of the Deity.

Besides, the Holy Trinities in all the Old religions, which made the number three mystical and as representing the deity, there is another school of thought, which mentions that as in mythology, so also in Freemasonry , the position of the Sun had a profound influence on our basic thinking .Almost in all the old religions the worship of Sun was in vogue and different prayers were used for the rising Sun, Sun at noon and the setting Sun, symbolizing the creation or the beginning, the preservation and protection and finally the close or the destruction respectively. The symbolism is reflected in Masonry. As the Sun rises in the East to open and enliven the day, so is the W.M placed in the East to open the Lodge and employ and instruct the brethren. Symbolically light and knowledge emanate from the East. The Sun is always held to be at its meridian with respect to Freemasonry. It is the duty of the ostensible steward of the lodge placed in the South to mark the Sun at its meridian. The S.W is placed in the west to mark the setting sun and to close the Lodge. Perhaps that, in a way points out to the prominence given to the number three. Freemasonry has adopted the triad, as well as the numbers Five and Seven in its symbolism.

Number three however, is the basis and the foundation number for the whole of the craft. The Candidate must have the three qualifications, of being free, of mature age and of sound judgment and strict morals. He seeks admission with the assistance of three Viz, with the help of God, being free and of good report. There are three perfect points of entrance. W.M addresses three questions to the candidate, which he answers with candour. The candidate takes three steps, all in multiples of three to reach the altar to obtain the light of Freemasonry. His attention is drawn to the Three Great though emblematical lights in Freemasonry, which are the Vs.S.L, S. and Cs. The candidate is enlightened on the three lesser lights, representing the Sun, the Moon and the Master of the Lodge. The candidate then notices that there are three principal officers and three assistant officers besides the T. The apron of the initiate is an emblem of innocence, purity and bond of friendship. The E.As received a weekly allowance of corn, wine and oil.

There are three degrees in the Craft and each has a triad of S.ns, Tokens and W.ds. The Order is founded on three Grand Principles namely, Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. The distinguishing characteristics of a Freemason are Virtue, Honour and Mercy. V.S.L teaches us our duties to God, our Neighbour and Ourselves. The sacred dictates are Truth, Honour and Virtue. The three principal moral virtues forming part of the Jacob’s ladder are Faith, Hope and Charity. The Lodge is supported by three great pillars of Ionic, Doric and Corinthian Orders and they respectively represent Wisdom, Strength and Beauty.

The interior of the Lodge consists of three objects, namely Ornaments, Furniture and Jewels. There are three ornaments-Mosaic Pavement, Blazing Star and Indented or Tasselated Border. Three moveable jewels are S.,L., and the P.R. The three immoveable jewels are T.B., the Rough and the Perfect Ashlars. The three pieces of furniture are V.S.L., S., and Cs. The craft has three colours-White, Blue and Black. The white symbolizes purity and innocence. Blue, the colour of the Craft symbolizes universal friendship and benevolence. Black symbolizes mourning. Each degree has its own three working tools and three distinct knocks. Certain signs are of a threefold character. Pillars are adorned with chapiters, each of which is enriched with the three ornamentations of network, lily work and pomogranates. The lily work has three bands representing the three stages of the Craft. The buds of the top band pointing upwards symbolizes that our thoughts and ideals should be lofty. The lilies of the middle row consist of fully opened flowers facing outwards, representing the lives of the Fellowcrafts as the glory, dignity and the power of the humanity as it should be. The lillies of the third row hang gracefully downwards upon the curved stems and face in various directions, representing the master masons reaching down into the world in order to devote themselves to the helping and enlightenment of the humanity.

Secrets are communicated after the required steps are taken. The secrets of the Master Mason are communicated at the third regular step. The genuine secrets were known but to three in the world. There were three traditional G.Ms, who bore sway at the building of the first temple at Jerusalem. Three ruffians attempted to extort the secrets of the exalted degree. There were three attacks on our Master using three different tools. Three F.C lodges were formed to search for our Master. Three attempts were made to raise our Master. Three brethren at last raised him. The ornaments of M.M’s Lodge are three namely, the Porch, the Dormer and the square pavement. There are three emblems of mortality—C., S., and the C.Bs.

All of us have to hele, conceal and never improperly reveal the secrets. The three excellences of character are Secrecy, Fidelity and Obedience. All the triads mentioned above appear to indicate that we not only understand and glorify the three aspects of the Almighty God and that, the Triads have been incorporated to represent the three aspects of the God, of His being the Creator, the Preserver and the Destroyer and also of His being Omnicient, Omnipotent and Omnipresent.

May our united endeavours help us to understand the symbolisms still better.

The author is a senior P.M of Lodge Veeraswami (No.200). He is an excellent ritualist and has been training the junior brethren in the ritual working. He is an erudite scholar in Masonic Symbolism. This article is an updated version of the Paper presented by him in the Seminar on the Symbolism of the First Degree held at Vijayawada, some years ago. The author in spite of his busy schedule as a Special Prosecutor in several sensational cases has found some time to prepare this article. We are very thankful to him and hope for more articles in the future.

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