Masonic Symbolism: Common York Rite Symbols
The York Rite consists of three separate Masonic organizations that operate independently. These three organizations are known as the Royal Arch Masons, the Royal and Select Masters and the Knights Templar. Members who have achieved Master Mason status in Freemasonry are able to join the York Rite at the level of Royal Arch Mason, the first order of the York Rite, and ascent all the way to the Order of the Knights Templar, the highest order within the York Rite.
As with all orders of Freemasonry, the York Rite degrees are filled with symbolism. Because there is frequent overlap in the symbols within Freemasonry, we will discuss only symbols we have not touched upon previously. For a more complete list of symbols found within the York Rite, please refer to our other Masonic symbolism articles.
The Triple Tau
The symbol of the triple Tau is most easily recognizable within the context of the York Rite because it is the symbol of the Royal Arch Masons, the first order of the York Rite. "Tau" refers to the 19th letter in the Greek alphabet, and it originates from the ancient Hebrew letter Tav meaning "mark". This letter was often used in biblical times to mark a sinner, but it is also recognized as a symbol of salvation according to the Talmud.
While only the highest degree of the York Rite places any real emphasis on a belief in a Christian god, the importance of possessing a good moral character is expressed in all branches of Freemasonry. Mason Members are strongly encouraged to lead their brothers by example, to be strong, righteous and kind. To do this, one must practice humility as it is oftentimes emphasized in the bible, perhaps even going to far as to consider oneself marked and saved by a higher power.
Further strengthening this point is the fact that the Tau appears three times within the Royal Arch symbol. The number three has been prevalent among religious and spiritual texts since ancient times, and remains important even in modern day. Symbolically speaking, three might represent a trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in this context. Three may be used to indicate the importance of the triangle.
The triangle seems only a natural choice for any spiritual symbol, although within the spiritual context, it is often seen as equilateral rather than as right. Triangles have been present in ancient Egyptian drawings and architecture and continue to be used in modern times in functional as well as symbolic ways. Without any further contemplation that might help us uncover deeper symbolic meanings, the triangle already subconsciously tends to conjure up ideas about strength and unity. But what else can we learn about the triangle in the Masonic context?
Beyond the obvious explanations involving Pythagoras or symbols of deities, we might decide to examine the triangle from a language perspective. Many of the Masonic symbols we've uncovered so far have roots in ancient Hebrew, and the triangle may be similar. When seen from a language perspective, the triangle clearly represents Delta, the fourth letter within the Greek alphabet. This letter originated from the fourth letter Dalet within the ancient Hebrew alphabet. The Dalet, like most Hebrew letters, does have biblical meaning - in this case, it represents the pauper.
In this new light, the triangle might take on additional symbolic meanings beside strength or unity, alluding perhaps also to emotional, spiritual or financial poverty. The triangle in its broken state, as often seen in York Rite symbolism, may therefore refer to the need of the brotherly bond in order to become strong and stable or the freedom from emotional and spiritual poverty upon joining the Rite.
Part of a gentleman's common attire in more ancient times, the sword continues to make an occasional appearance in certain formal Masonic processions. A Grand Lodge appoints the position of the member carrying the sword during such events, and calls him the "Grand Sword Bearer".
The sword itself, of course, is a symbol of power. This power, however, is double-edged like all swords are. Power of the sword can be used for good or for evil, and the sword is therefore a stark reminder that the power is in the hands of those who bear the sword - and not just for ceremonial reasons.
In a symbolic context, the sword can represent a variety of sharp implements. In modern times, the sword can become words or actions. It is therefore considered the duty of any Freemason to use the power of his words or actions positively in order to help his brothers to thrive alongside him. Only when the power of the sword is used for good can the organizations of Freemasonry function without collapsing.
Freemasonry is filled with interesting symbolism, and we’re always looking for additional trivia. If you have any fun, strange or informational content that might help us expand on our Masonic knowledge library, contact us!