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The Masonic North

From The Grand Lodge Of Texas

During the course of initiation, the new Mason is taught the North is Masonically a place of darkness. This is explained in the ritual by describing the orientation of King Solomon's Temple and stating the location prevented the rays of the sun at meridian height from entering a north window. This explanation is based upon natural phenomena. However, it is known that diffused light will enter a northerly oriented window. In addition, this explanation provides some difficulty for most of those living in the Southern Hemisphere where the north is subjected to the sun's rays. There are no additional references to the North as a place of darkness in the ritual leaving one to ponder this brief reference in the Entered Apprentice Lecture.

The north is not something that was thought up by some deep thinker. It is a direction and is used by man to orient his understanding of the universe. The concept of north is evident in the King James translation of the Bible where Job 37: 9 reads, "Out of the south cometh the whirlwind; and cold, out of the north." The mythologies of several ancient cultures evidence a dread of the north as a place of darkness and desolation. Even among the people of England there existed a desire not to be buried on the north side of a church indicating an aversion to the north.

The Graham Manuscript, a Masonic catechism published in 1726, provides some additional insight. It contains the following questions and answers:

Q. How stood your lodge at your entering
A. East west and south
Q. Why not north also
A. In regard we dwell at the north part of the world we burie no dead at the north side of our churches so we carry a Vacancey at the north side of our Lodges

This allusion to the north as a place of darkness can be found in the very early Masonic rituals. Perhaps this dread of the north was related to the natural inclemency that threatened him from the north, the winds bringing the cold from the Artic regions.

There is another, and perhaps more practical, reason for the north to be considered a place of darkness. Early religious buildings were built in an east-west fashion with the east being the predominant direction. This orientation was desired as the east was considered the source of light and power, related to the sun rising in the east.

In creating their work area, the medieval lodge built a lean-to type building erected along side the church under construction. This building was invariably placed on the southern side of the construction to avoid the inclemency of the cold northern winds. As a result, the lodge acquired an east to west orientation and the openings were in the east, south, and west. This exposed the hut or lodge and the workmen to as much east, south, and west light as possible, providing the necessary light to work by for as long as possible. The light was blocked from the north by the adjacent building.

As Masonry moved from the operative to the speculative, it was natural that the north would continue to symbolically represent the darkness of the working structures. As such, the north represents the profane world and symbolizes ignorance, as study and examination are not possible in darkness. So it is fitting this symbol is presented to the Entered Apprentice during his initiation. In this act, the candidate enters a new stage of his life dedicated to improving himself morally and seeking a better understanding of his relationship with the Creator. As such he seeks enlightenment, leaving behind the darkness of ignorance. As Masons we should remember our continued quest for self-development and personal growth.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014