Some Reflexions Regarding the Number Five

Jacques Huyghebaert

During the second degree ceremony the candidate is informed that Freemasonry is a progressive moral science divided into different degrees, and as its mystic ceremonies are regularly developed and illustrated, it is intended and hoped that they will make a deep and lasting impression upon his mind. [1]

Traditionally it has been required that the Brethren endeavour to commit to memory the working and various ceremonies of the Craft. This demand has never been intended to trifle with anybody, but to teach us an important lesson: i.e. that all our efforts to acquire knowledge will remain useless, if we are to forget all we learn.

No one has, however, wished any Brother ever to become a "Parrot-Mason". In order to understand that which, through the succession of ages, has been transmitted unimpaired, and which we regard as the "Most Excellent Tenets" of our ancient and honourable Fraternity, we need to take a closer look at the Lodge work, the precise wording of the questions and answers, the true content of the lectures, and the deep sense of the various symbols made use of during our ceremonies.

Albert Pike, who was the Grand Commander of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite from 1859 to 1891, has written the following about the essence of Masonry:

"The vagueness of symbolism, capable of many interpretations, reaches what the palpable and conventional cannot. Its indefiniteness acknowledges the abstruseness of the subject; it treats it mystically, it endeavours to illustrate what it cannot explain, to excite an appropriate feeling, or to develop an adequate idea, and to make the image a mere subordinate conveyance for the conception"

"Masonry, successor of the Egyptian Mysteries, still follows the ancient manner of teaching. Her ceremonies are like the ancient mystic shows, not the reading of an essay, but the opening of a problem, requiring research. Her symbols are the instruction she gives. The lectures are endeavours to interpret these symbols. He who would become an accomplished Mason must not be content merely to hear, or even to understand the lectures; he must, aided by them, and they having, as it were, marked out the way for him, study, interpret, and develop these symbols for himself." [2]

Masonic tradition informs us that at the building of King Solomon's Temple, the Craft were arranged in three classes: Entered Apprentices or bearers of burdens, Fellowcrafts or hewers on the mountains and in the quarries, and Masters or Overseers of the Work.

The Entered Apprentice Mason works with the gavel and the chisel to break off the superfluous parts of the rough ashlar.

The Fellowcraft has different working tools: the level and the square. These instruments are not made to cut the stone, but to verify and position the building stones according to the plan.

The compass is for the Master Mason, neither to cut the stone, nor to build the edifice, but to draw designs upon the trestle board.

It becomes clear, even in operative Masonry, that improvement of craftsmanship, necessarily leads to a gradual development of the mental faculties of the Artist, and vice-versa.

In the first degree, the square is placed upon the extended points of the compass, in the second degree, one point of the compass is elevated above the square, and in the third degree the square is completely covered by the compass.

This progression indicates to Freemasons, that the way leading to Perfection, both operative and speculative, requires a slow but constant shift from the square to the compass, or, in other words, from matter towards spirit.

This is why, in the second degree, the symbols stress the importance of numbers.

The old catechisms referred to the number required to make "a full and perfect lodge" or a "true and perfect lodge", or some such similar expression.

The answers varied, but the use of three, five and seven was fairly constant.

Q. What makes a true and perfect Lodge?

A. Seven Masters, five entered apprentices.

Q. Does no less make a true and perfect Lodge?

A. Yes, five Masons and three entered apprentices.

Q. Does no less?

A. The more the merrier, the fewer the better cheer.

When after the Union of the Grand Lodges in 1813 the Emulation ritual appeared, the lectures of the three degrees had seven, five and three sections respectively, the minimum numbers which the lectures claimed were required to form a Lodge in each of those degrees.

The third section of the California third degree lecture states that:

"Entered Apprentice Masons assembled on the ground floor of King Solomon's Temple, and their lodges consisted of no less than seven; one Master, the other Entered Apprentice Masons. Fellowcrafts held their meetings in the Middle Chamber of King Solomon's Temple, and their lodges consisted of no less than five; two Masters, the other Fellowcrafts; Master Masons met in the Sanctum Sanctorum, or Holy of Holies, and their lodge consisted of three."

During the second section of the Fellow Craft degree ceremony, the attention of the candidate is directed to a representation of a flight of winding stairs consisting of three, five and seven steps.

Here is an extract from "Leaves from Georgia Masonry", on the number five in relation to the staircase:

"Having climbed up the first three steps, and laid the foundation of your Masonic building, you see now a flight of five steps, replete with profound meaning. For five is a sacred number ever found in connection with two, and with seven. Jesus is said to have fed the multitude with five loaves and two fishes, and of the fragments there remained twelve baskets, that is five and seven. The five steps show on one side the five orders of architecture, and on the other the five human senses. Now when you hear of a 'sacred' number, you think probably that means nothing to you personally, but stop and consider a moment. This number five is engraved in your being more than once. Examine yourself, and you find five fingers, five toes, and five avenues through which the outside world can communicate with that mysterious being who sits in the centre of your con-ciousness and receives and translates — no man knows how — the various messages carried to the brain by the nerves from the outside world." [3]

The use of numbers has always had a special significance to Freemasons.

"All things are in numbers", said our ancient friend and brother, the Great Pythagoras; "the world is a living arithmetic in its development, and a realized geometry in its repose."

Nature is a realm of numbers; crystals are solid geometry. Music moves with measured step, using geometrical figures, and cannot free itself from numbers without dying away into discord.

Equally so it is with the art of building — a living allegory in which man imitates in miniature the world-temple, and seeks by every device to discover the secret of its stability. [4]

This is why our ritual states:

"A survey of nature, and the observation of her beautiful proportions, first determined man to imitate the Divine plan, and to study symmetry and order."

The number FIVE is traditionally expressed by the five-pointed or blazing star, the mysterious pentalpha of Pythagoras.

The pentalpha has been found on sarcophagi and ancient carvings, and has a long association with the religions and mysteries of Antiquity. It is a magic sign in astrology, alchemy, and cabbalistic law.

Astronomically it represented Sirius or the Dog Star. On wall paintings of Egyptian tombs, we can still see Isis, surmounted by the five pointed star.

Thousands of years before Christ astronomers had observed that Sirius was an important star, not only for the forecast of the return of seasons, but also for the determination of the heavenly cycles.

That is why the star Sirius was chosen by the Egyptians to mark the "sacred year", corresponding to the precessional cycle of the equinoxes, the duration of which is known to encompass more than 25 millenia.

They also had noticed that the star Sirius, the star Spica and the terrestrial globe, display a right-angled triangle upon the skies.

Spica is the main star of the constellation Virgo. That may seem irrelevant to the second degree — it is not — for Spica means "ear of corn" in Latin which translated into Hebrew gives "Shibboleth". The star Spica is located on the milky way, which the Egyptians called the celestial Nile. And that perhaps can provide us with another hint to the signification of the "ear of corn suspended near a waterford".

According to Diodorus, a Greek historian who lived in the 1st century B.C., the Ancients represented the universe by the NUMBER FIVE.

To the Alchemists it was the sign of the Quintessence. To the Magi, the Grand Arcanum. To the Cabbalists, the sacred Pentagram.

As Masons, studying numbers, we may say that five is four plus one, 5 = 4 + 1.

We already know that the number four alludes to the four elements of Nature: earth, water, air and fire.

We also know that the number one signifies the beginning, the source, the principle, the essence of all things.

We therefore are entitled to deduct that FIVE, being an association of ONE and FOUR, alludes to nothing else than the mystery of LIFE.

Our ritual states that "by Geometry we may curiously trace Nature through her various windings to her most concealed recesses."

"A survey of Nature teaches us indeed that, five and its geometrical equivalent, the five pointed star, is a very frequent pattern, to be observed in all forms of life.

"We can discover it in the arrangements of the pits in an apple, we can discover it in the design of orchids, we can discover it in the arms of the starfish."

"It leads the artist to the golden section and the number, which by many has been considered as the mathematical expression of life."

"In imitation of nature, architects, painters, sculptors and musicians of all ages have made use of the golden proportion to reach harmony and beauty." [5]

The jewel of Past-Masters, in the English and continental European Lodges, inherited from the Grand Lodge of the Moderns, representing the 47th problem of Euclid, figures a right-angled triangle.

Its base, measured by the NUMBER THREE, refers to the DEITY, the perpendicular, measured by the NUMBER FOUR, symbolizes MATTER, and the hypotenuse, measured by the NUMBER FIVE, alludes to that nature which is produced by the union of the Divine and the Material, MAN with his soul and body.

The squares, 9 and 16, of the base and perpendicular, added together, produce 25, the square root whereof is 5, the measure of the hypotenuse.

Finally, may I direct your attention again to the flight of winding stairs, consisting of three, five and seven steps, making in all 15 steps.

Fifteen, which is also three times five, is, according to Cabbala, the number of YAH, or, as we would say as Freemasons, the number of the "Great Architect of the Universe" and which we represent by the letter G in the centre of the five-pointed blazing star.

NOTES

  1. King Solomon and his Followers, no 38, CAL, Allen Publishing Company, Richmond, Virginia, 1910, 1972 revised edition.
  2. Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, prepared by Albert Pike for the Supreme Council of the Thirty-Third degree (Mother Council of the World) for the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States and published by its authority, House of the Temple, Washington, D.C., 1966.
  3. Symbolism in Craft Masonry, Colin Dyer, PAGDC, Master of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No.2076, (1975-76), Lewis Masonic, London, 1976, 1983 reprint.
  4. Joseph Fort Newton, The Builders, a story and study of Freemasonry, Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Company Inc., Richmond, Virginia, 1914, 1951 reprint.
  5. L'├ętoile flamboyante, Jacques Trescases, Editions Henri Veyrier, 1979.