Among the Masonic symbols that are not taken directly from the symbolism of the builders, the Sun and Moon occupy a special place in Freemasonry. They can of course be related to the Starry Vault that covers the Lodge, but although they are celestial bodies, they nevertheless have their own significance. In Freemasonry, the Sun and Moon most often adorn the eastern wall of the Lodge and are thus immediately visible to those entering, and according to many rituals, they are the first to be seen by the new Entered Apprentice when the blindfold falls, along with the Worshipful Master. What is the significance of the Sun and Moon in Freemasonry ? Is this double symbol universal ? Are the Sun and Moon interpreted in the same way as in Freemasonry in other cultures and civilisations ?

Masonic significance of the Sun in the ancient catechisms

The Sun first appeared alone in ancient Masonic rituals. It is mentioned as early as the oldest known Masonic manuscript (the "Edinburgh Register House" MS, 1696), where it is presented, along with the firmament, as the witness to the oath that the future Mason will take. It thus represents the eye of God that brings all things to light.

The Sun is found again in "Sloane" MS no. 3329 (circa 1700), where we read that it is one of the three Lights of the Lodge, along with the Master and the Square. There is no mention yet of the Moon. And "Dumfries" MS no. 4, circa 1710, provides a further clarification, as it is the first to link the rising Sun with the opening of the Works, and the setting Sun with the closing. For this manuscript, the Lodge has only these two Lights. The idea of the Master standing in the East to observe the rising Sun and set the workers to work then became widespread, as can be seen, for example, in "Trinity College" MS of 1711. And the model was later completed by the mention of the Sun at its meridian, i.e. at the Zenith, and by its association with the place of the Master and the two Wardens used in the rituals of the "Ancient" type Rites (Anglo-Saxon Rites, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, etc.) : the Worshipful Master in the East to set the Masons to work, the Junior 2nd Warden in the South to mark the time of rest, and the Senior Warden in the West to close the work.

Until the 1725s, the Sun seems to have been given two meanings in Masonic rituals : linked to the oath, it became an image of divine Justice observing the world ; and linked to the Lodge and its Work, it represented the Power that governs nature between its rising and its setting, which punctuate the Masonic labour. And this is quite logical : the ancient rituals were probably still close to the operative rituals and, from this perspective, only the Sun mattered, as there was no work to be done at night.

Arrival of the Moon in the Masonic symbolism

The Moon's arrival in rituals probably had to wait until the operative dimension gradually gave way to a more spiritual and esoteric interpretation. And the first mention of the Moon can be found in 1726, in a Masonic manuscript with a very pronounced Christian imprint, the "Graham". This manuscript states that the Lodge has twelve Lights, or Jewels : "ffather son holy ghost—sun moon master Mason square Rule plum Lyne Mell and cheisall". The Sun retains a certain primacy, as we read that it "renders light day and night". But at night, who diffuses this light over the Earth ? That's where the Moon comes in, the mysterious nocturnal star symbolically linked to water : "as ffor the moon she is a dark body off water and doth receive her Light ffrom the sun and is allso queen of waters which is the best of Leavells".

The Moon will henceforth be associated with the Sun in the Lodge, and the three Lights that the new Entered Apprentice discovers are no longer the Sun, the Master and the Square, but rather the Sun, the Moon and the Master. The rituals will thus tend more towards introspection, inner work and the discovery of the unconscious dimension of being. The appearance of the Moon is undeniably a sign of an increase in the esoteric and psychological dimension of Freemasonry.

With the arrival of the Moon other symbols would come to the fore, turning the Lodge into a vast binary system whose duality would be sublimated and reconciled by the ternary principle : the B and J pillars, the black and white squares of the Mosaic Pavement. The Sun thus becomes an active, expansive, masculine symbol, while the Moon is understood as passive, receptive and feminine. And we can easily add an alchemical symbolism, with the Sun representing Gold or Sulphur, and the Moon Silver or Mercury.

Masonic initiation therefore clearly becomes an inner adventure, leading the person who embarks on this path to achieve what, in the 20th century, the analytical psychologist Carl Gustav Jung would call individuation, the reconciliation of opposites, the sign of psychological maturity.

Is the Mason symbolism of Sun and Moon universal ?

When we study symbolism, there is perhaps too much of a tendency to "concordism", i.e. to look for what unites and links the different symbolic systems from different cultures. Symbolism is sometimes too hastily considered to be the universal spiritual language. Yes, symbolism is universal ; it is clearly the expression of human intra-psychic life. It is comparable to a language, and in this sense it is universal. But just as there are different languages, which have developed within very different cultures, symbolism is always part of a distinct cultural and therefore linguistic context.

Everything that can be said about the Sun and Moon in Freemasonry on a symbolic level is sometimes universal and sometimes culturally specific. The fact that the Sun and Moon rise in the East and set in the West is universal ; that the Sun is always full, while the Moon is sometimes waxing, full, waning or dark is universal.

But the fact that the Sun is masculine and the Moon feminine, as is the case in Masonic symbolism, is far from universal. Let's not forget that there is no thought without language. Our concepts, no matter how lofty, are necessarily determined by the words we use and, more generally, by the language we speak.

The obvious 'masculinity' of the Sun and the no less obvious 'femininity' of the Moon only apply to those peoples who have gendered these two celestial bodies in this way. This is the case for most European languages, following on from Latin and Greek. Only German reverses the attributions (Die Sonne, der Mond), and Irish Gaelic seems to give them both the feminine gender. Hebrew, on the other hand, uses the masculine gender for both, but what can we say about the many languages that grammatically ignore genders or apply them only to personal pronouns, such as Chinese, Thai or Malagasy?

Although apparently universal, because they are cosmic and available for all to observe, the Sun and Moon take on a symbolic connotation in Freemasonry that is deeply rooted in European culture and its various languages. This is perhaps the clearest indication that Freemasonry can only be transplanted and accepted in other cultures through symbolic reinterpretation and appropriation. Otherwise, it will be condemned to remain a foreign body, incapable of offering people a relevant path to inner evolution.

April 08, 2024 — Ion Rajalescu