Vol. XXIV No. 6 — June 1946

Numerology of Masonry

The Standard Dictionary defines the word numerology as “The science of numbers; also a pseudo-science that asserts the influence of numbers, as those of the day of one’s birth, the month in the year, and the year in the calendar, in life.” Oliver Day Street, gifted author of Symbolism of the Three Degrees, writes the following regarding this alleged science:

One of the most curious bodies of learning of the ancient world, many fragments of which are scattered throughout Masonry. It is exceedingly difficult for the modern mind to grasp what is meant by this so-called science, so highly speculative was it. It does not allude, as its name might seem to indicate, to any of the mathematical sciences, or anything akin to them. It was a system of moral science or philosophy, wherein numbers were given symbolical meaning and the letters of the alphabet were given numerical values; whence words were supposed to have certain occult significations according to the sums or multiples of the numerical equivalents of its letters. The elaboration of this idea was productive of the Hebrew Kabala. Pythagoras is reputed to have introduced this school among the Greeks and according to Aristotle he taught that “Number is the principle of all things and that the organization of the Universe is an harmonic system of numerical ratios.”

It is the second, not the first, Standard Dictionary definition which is apparently in the minds of most of those who have found an interesting connection between numbers and Freemasonry. Fascinating as is the case made out by such mystics, it is difficult for the literal-minded to follow their conceptions.

More profitable is it to consider some of the numbers of which Freemasonry finds important with relation to superstition and with tradition. Let no one say he is not superstitious until he has derided the most common associated with numbers — thirteen. Many hotels have no room numbered thirteen; you will find room twelve, room twelve A, room fourteen, but no thirteen. Some football teams will not play if one of their teammates wears 13 on his jersey.

The old antipathy to thirteen comes of course from the superstitious dark ages, when, because Christ sat at table with Twelve Apostles just before He was crucified, the number thirteen became “unlucky.”

We have reverence for certain numbers but fail to call that feeling superstition. The number three, for instance, is a “sacred” number because it is the triad which represents a triangle, and a triangle was the first symbol of Deity, being the first closed (and therefore endless) figure possible to make with the fewest straight lines. We find three in religion in the “Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

But we can go further in the past than the three judges, Pilate, Herod, and the High Priest, and the Jews who dragged two robbers to be crucified with Jesus. The thunder bolt of Jove is represented as three-forked; Pluto’s dog was three-headed; there were three Fates and three Furies. Freemasonry has three degrees, three steps on the Master’s carpet, three ruffians, three Great Lights, three Lesser Lights, three working tools worn by three principal officers, three movable, three immovable jewels and so on.

But three is only one number which is stressed in Masonry. Brother H. A. Kinsbury compiled this:

There is one Master; there are two Wardens; three supporting Pillars; four sides to the lodge, marking the Four Cardinal Virtues; five elected primary officers; six jewels; seven operative working tools necessary to the symbolic building of a proper lodge, i. e., the six usual working tools plus the compasses; when the lodge is in the form of the double square (as it should be) the two squares present eight right-angles; there are nine primary officers, excluding the tyler, and ten primary officers in all.

And then, of course, there were fifteen fellow-crafts! Why there were not fourteen or sixteen is anyone’s guess, but perhaps another ancient numerical tradition may answer. If the letters in the Hebrew alphabet are numbered, the sum of those which represent God — Yod He — is fifteen. The fellowcraft takes three, five, and seven steps — sum total, fifteen. In the dark ages men wore a “magic square” around their necks to keep off the plague; here is the square:

4 3 8
9 5 1
2 7 6

This has the oddity — the ancients called it the perfection — of adding to fifteen vertically, horizontally, diagonally. No wonder fifteen was a symbol of perfection — and the perfection of the fellowcrafts was broken when three turned from the rest!

Except for the obvious “three” most brethren would probably think first of three, five, and seven if asked what number they most associated with Masonry. Books have been written upon the successive steps of the stairs. Of them the author and Masonic student, H. L. Haywood, has written:

From ancient times numbers have been much employed in symbolism as is proved by the records of all the ancient nations, philosophies, and religions. For one reason or another, too complicated to explain here, the even numbers were usually made to denote earthly or human things while the odd numbers were revered as expressions or suggestions of divine or heavenly truths. This was not always the case for the early Christians used 888 as the number of Jesus; but even they made 666 to stand for the human or demoniac and 777 to mean absolute perfection. It is now believed that the “number of the beast” spoken of in the Book of Revelation, and given as 666 in our Authorized version was really 616, which was the numerical value of the words Kaiser Theos, or God Caesar, and referred to the worship of the emperor. At any rate, with few exceptions, number symbolism has always made the odd number to suggest that which is divine or very noble and as such we may understand the use of the odd numbers, 3, 5, and 7. An old Roman historian of architecture notes that ancient temples were nearly always approached by an odd number of steps because they led to the divine precincts; we may rejoice that the builders of our symbolic temple have also retained this symbolism because it is certain that there is nothing more divine accessible to human feet than that which is pictured for us in the Middle Chamber.

Agur the son of Jakeh said: “There are three things which are too wonderful for me, yea four that I know not," and “For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear” (Proverbs 30:18, 21). A number makes a form in which the several points of an oral tradition can be arranged and therefore easily remembered. If there are ten “words” in the Law given on Mt. Sinai, or five points in an obligation, any lapse of memory is corrected almost automatically. Meekren noted a quarter of a century ago that it was along such lines that the earliest researches into mathematics were prosecuted. The discovery of numerical relations, such as those in the three-four-five right angle triangle, or the arrangement of the figures in a magic square, so that they give the same total however added up, gave rise to speculations that the whole universe, material and spiritual, was based on numerical proportions and harmonies. It is this that is at the basis of all theories and systems of sacred numbers.

For the number three there may be a psychological basis; up to three, number seems instinctive rather than intellectual. Five has obvious significance from fingers and toes. Seven are the days between phases of the moon. The significance of the higher numbers seems largely derived from these lower ones, and in many cases it seems distinctly artificial, invented to round out the system. Today mathematical science has gone far beyond arithmetic and plane geometry, and this naive wonder at such elementary relations may seem almost inexplicable. Nevertheless intelligent children often pass through the stage, while our physicists and mathematicians are trying again, with more abstruse calculations to account for the world and the stuff of which it is made in a generalized form of numbers and geometrical figures.

Three, five, and seven are not only important in the Fellowcrafts degree but in the ceremonies of opening and closing. How many are necessary to open a lodge of Master Masons was a question recently propounded to a grand master, who answered, officially, “Seven.” In his grand lodge two reports were received from a committee to whom the matter had been referred. The first was, that “while seven may be necessary to transact certain kinds of lodge business, three are sufficient to open a lodge of Master Masons.” The second recommended that the decision of the M.W. grand master be not concurred in. An interesting discussion followed, both reports were rejected, and the decision was concurred in by a considerable majority. This jurisdiction has no constitutional law on the subject.

In following this curious and interesting bypath of Masonic lore, A. J. Meekren and A. L. Kress, twenty years ago, developed some curious facts from old rituals and exposes of Masonry, from which labors the following is abstracted.

With regard to the number of those required to be present, impressions derived from the Operative evidence is that the normal requirement was seven. Still stronger are the indications that it should be an odd number. The Manuscript Constitutions tell us this, and other evidence points to the fact that all ranks in the Craft ought to be represented. Naturally the rules of the Constitutions and the minutes of old lodges give some detail: one form says outright that “odds make a lodge” because all odd numbers are “to men’s advantage, or “lucky,” an old widespread idea.

A number of possible variations have held sway; seven fellows and five apprentices is one; three masters, three fellows and three apprentices is another; three masters, two fellows and two apprentices, making seven in all, seems to have been the most generally accepted. Sometimes this is divided into a “master, two wardens, two fellows and two apprentices.”

In the lectures generally ascribed to Webb, three are necessary for a lodge of Masters, five for one of Fellowcrafts, and seven for an Entered Apprentices’ lodge. This continuous addition of two to the lower grades, closely parallels certain of the old Catechisms. In certain English instructions for the Fellowcraft, it is said that “three rule a lodge, five hold a lodge and seven make it perfect.”

There are some curious Masonic documents extant known to scholars as the “Old Catechisms.” Some of them are in the form of exposés, others have been considered early rituals, although the classification is doubtful. One is called the Mason’s Confession, published in 1755. Another is the Sloane Manuscript, another the Essex Manuscript, and a fourth The Mason’s Examination.

The Essex Manuscript has this:

  1. Where was you made a Mayson?
  2. In a just and perfect lodge.
  3. How many make a lodge?
  4. God and the Square with 7 Right and perfect Maysons in the highest Mountains or in the lowest valleys in the world.

The Examination says:

  1. Where was you entered?
  2. In a just and perfect lodge.
  3. What makes a just and perfect lodge?
  4. A Master, two wardens, four fellows with Square, Compass and common gudge.

This again makes the number seven. Gudge undoubtedly is a dialect form or corruption of gauge. Then follows:

  1. Where was you made?
  2. In the Valley of Jehosaphat behind a rush bush where a dog was never heard to bark or a cock to crow, or elsewhere.

The Confession says:

  1. Where should the Mason word be given?
  2. On the top of a mountain from crow of a cock, the bark of a dog, or the turtle of a dove.

And in another place:

  1. Where place ye your lodge?
  2. On the sunny side of a hill that the sun may ascend on’t when it rises.

The proviso that the place be out of hearing of the sound of the common domestic animals evidently refers to the caution that it should be far from human habitation. This is brought out in another place:

  1. What makes a true and perfect lodge?
  2. Seven Masters, five apprentices, a day’s journey from a Borrowstown without Bark of a Dog or Crow of a cock.

The number of those present seems to have been regarded as important, and except in one case is always uneven. The Sloane gives six, two masters, two fellowcrafts, and two “Interprintices,” but says “five will serve.” The quotation from the Essex Manuscript given above stipulates “five or seven.” The quotation seems to have been regarded as the proper number taking the evidence as a whole, but in an additional fragment appended to the Essex we have this:

  1. And how many Masons was so called?
  2. Any odd number from three to thirteen.

The Confession mentions another number:

  1. Who made you a Mason?
  2. God Almighty’s holy will made me a Mason; the square under God made me a Mason; nineteen fellowcrafts and thirteen entered ’prentices made me a Mason.

The Essex Manuscript and two others have the following:

  1. Why do odds make a lodge?
  2. Because all odds are men’s advantage, which seems to mean that odd numbers are lucky.

The ancient science of numbers was wholly a matter of “lucky” or “magical” quantities; numbers were supposed to refer to male or female, good or evil, god or devil, good luck or bad, and to possess of themselves powers as potent as they were non-understandable.

Much of these old ideas were undoubtedly in the minds of men who first formed an Operative Craft; more seems to have permeated those who brought symbolism into Speculative Masonry.

Today the numbers in Freemasonry have no “magical” connotations, but even as short and cursory an examination as this is not without its interest in demonstrating again how very far back Freemasonry’s beginnings go, and how deeply it is imbedded in the history of man’s thought.

The Masonic Service Association of North America