Vol. XXIX No. 4 — April 1951

Mosaic Pavement and Blazing Star

The word mosaic refers to Moses only when used of such subjects as law, religion, and symbolism.

In the Masonic sense, the word refers to a floor or pavement made by inlaying small stones, or the placing of larger stones side by side to form a pattern.

The Mosaic Pavement, Indented Tessel, and Blazing Star have nothing to do with Moses, in spite of the efforts of some students to torture a few verses of the Great Light into an account of mosaic pavement in Solomon’s Temple.

Three references in the Bible appear germane, but the appearance is elusive:

Exodus 24:9 tells the story of Moses going into the mountains with Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu; “And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.”

Exodus 25:9 sets forth that the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “According to all that I shew thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it.” This is one of many verses instructing Moses how to make the tabernacle.

In John 19:13 is: “When Pilate therefore heard that saying he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement.”

From these verses those who prefer to regard the word mosaic as referring to Moses construct the theory that as God was seen “on a paved work of a sapphire stone” it must be this which was the “pattern” for the tabernacle (and therefore for Solomon’s Temple) and that Pilate, having his judgment seat “in a place that is called the Pavement” must also have had a mosaic pavement just as Solomon must have had!

This theory, if it can be dignified by such a name, is long discredited with serious Masonic students, who believe mosaic to be a descendent of the Greek word mousa, the Latin moszacus, referring to something beautiful or artistic in connection with the Muses.

Whether or not there was a mosaic pavement in Solomon’s Temple is of less importance to us today than the meanings Masons attach to the “ornaments of a lodge.” In old rituals the “ornaments” we know were the “furniture.”

And here we run into so many different meanings, interpretations and beliefs that the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon would be often at a loss to unweave the pattern into something that makes sense with what we know of the ancestry and derivation of the symbol in our rituals.

Samuel Prichard wrote and published Masonry Dissected one of the very earliest “exposés” of the Craft. In it he included “Samuel Prichard makes Oath, That the Copy hereunto annexed, is a True and Genuine Copy in every Particular” and the date is 1730.

In this old pamphlet is the following dialogue (Enter’d Prentice’s Degree):

  1. Q. Have you any Furniture in your lodge?
  2. A. Yes.
  3. Q. What is it?
  4. A. Mosaick Pavement, Blazing Star, and Indented Tarsel.
  5. Q. What are they?
  6. A. Mosaick Pavement the Ground-floor of the lodge, Blazing Star the center, and indented Tarsel the border round about it.

In the same Dissection in the Master’s Degree appears this:

  1. Q. What are the Master Jewels?
  2. R. The Porch, Dormer, and Square Pavement.
  3. Q. Explain them?
  4. R. The Porch, the entering into the Santum Sanctorum, the Dormer, the Windows of Lights within, the Square Pavement, the Ground Flooring.

Are the “Ground-floor of the lodge” and “The Square Pavement, the Ground Flooring” the same?

“Square Pavement” is suggestive, for not all mosaic floors have the squares or oblongs diagonal, or diamond stripe. Many are constructed of squares within and square to the border. Both designs are worldwide; they have been beloved by makers of floors, rugs, tapestries, weaves, carpets in ancient Egypt, in oldest China, in the Native American lore of the first Americans, and even today Native American tribes make rugs and blankets with checkered designs. In Byzantine times, in early Rome, in ancient Greece, the mosaic pavement design appears in one form or another.

This wide dispersion could hardly have resulted from a central origin and a spreading to all these people in different times. Doubtless it came from the same pleasurable response to repetition plus variety which we all know, and which has been responsible for so many other similar ideas in art in so many places in the world.

Masonic symbolism, however, is another matter, and has a good builder’s reason to back it. All builders who ever laid out plans for a building on paper or cloth or papyrus have used and still use checkered squares to calculate areas and to enlarge or make smaller a design.

Masonically, the black and white of the Masonic mosaic pavement symbolizes good and evil. It has always been a symbol of opposites, whether good and evil, light and darkness, midnight and dawn or whatever.

But when we come to the “beautiful border which surrounds it” and the “Blazing Star” in the center we are somewhat at a loss to know how these three symbols were combined into one and just what their relation was; our earliest rituals do not go far enough back to inform us much on these points.

There is no Biblical reference to “indented tessel” or “tessellated border.” There is none to the Blazing Star.

Hence, whatever their original meanings may have been, there is no real evidence to support our modern contention that the border represents “those manifold blessings and comforts which constantly surround us” and the Blazing Star Divine Providence.”

The matter is further complicated by the fact that most charts, lantern slides and illustrations usually make the indented tessel out of rope and the Blazing Star with five straight points, not “blazing” at all!

There have been many theories as to the meaning of each of these symbols alone, of each pair of them together, of all three considered as a unit.

The Mosaic Pavement can easily be considered to represent day and night. The Blazing Star then may as easily have originally been the sun, which causes both. If the checkered squares are days and nights, the rope or surrounding border may be a rope binding the days of a man’s life together and indicate that these are numbered, for any man, and that they are therefore to be enclosed, to be considered as a unit — an echo of “the number of his days is with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds which he cannot pass.”

This leads to an interesting speculation. The good if often misinformed Dr. Oliver wrote that “Darkness was an emblem of death and death was a prelude to resurrection.” Many more people die between midnight and dawn than between dawn and midnight, if their ends are not caused by accidents. Death, shadow and darkness have always been symbols, the one of the other. A few examples:

“The darkness and the shadow of death stain it.” Job 111:22.

“The land of darkness and the shadow of death.” Job 10:21, 22.

“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Psalms 23:4.

“He hath set me in dark places as they that be dead of old.” Lamentations 111:2.

If the tessellated pavement represents the nights and days of men, bound together with the rope of life — the beautiful border which surrounds it — it is logical to consider the Blazing Star the symbol of the Great Architect and the resurrection.

As it originally came to Masonry in this country, the Blazing Star was Christian up to the time of the Baltimore Convention (1843). Many lodges used the Webb work which made the Star “commemorative of the star which appeared to guide the wise men of the east to the place of our Savior’s nativity.”

There were, however, many Masons with a conviction that Freemasonry’s non-sectarianism was one of its greatest assets and when this was brought out in the Baltimore Convention the Christian reference was omitted.

The Blazing Star has meant many things to many Masons at many times. It has been the Star in the East; the rays emanating from God when he gave the tablets of stone to Moses; a symbol of prudence; the sacred name of God and the sun.

Whatever its original meaning there seems to have been no doubt that the star was a blazing star and not just any star. The Blazing Star, as presented by drawings and paintings, has wavery snake-like rays, much as have many “flaming swords” in religious pictures a wavery, snaky, not a straight blade. But Masonic illustrations, old or recent, depict the Blazing Star with five straight points — all of which is confusing as between the adjective and the delineation! Incidentally, the six pointed star is the heraldic star. The pent-alpha or five pointed star is that of the Ancient Craft.

The great Dr. Mackey asserts that the Blazing Star should always be considered as symbolical of the Great Architect. How that came to be he hints rather than says.

In Egypt the god Anubis was the dog-star Sirius — the brightest in the heavens.

The rising of the dog star foretold the inundations of the Nile, without which Egypt starved.

The brightest star — like all other stars — twinkles. “Twinkling” is an atmospheric effect which does not appear when the source of light has a sensible diameter, like that of the planets.

“Twinkling” stars are “blazing stars.”

Was the god Anubis, who assisted in raising the god Osiris from the dead, foreshadowing peace and plenty as he foretold the overflowing of the Nile and the supplying of water for crops, the original Blazing Star?

The Blazing Star, which may have been the Egyptian Anubis, continued as a symbol of some more or less forgotten god of the ancient world and thus came down through the years as a symbol of the Most High. At least we know there has been star worship by Chinese, Greeks, Hebrews, Hindus, Japanese, Phoenicians, to mention but a few.

The noted Masonic scholar and authority, H. L. Haywood, has summarized modern Masonic thought of the symbol in thought-provoking and poetic words:

If, as a majority of Masonic symbolists believe, the black and white squares represent day and night, the Pavement is a member of a recurrent theme — the Twenty-Four Inch Gauge represents the twenty-four hours, the Sun and Moon are day and night, the East is the place of light and the North is the place of darkness, the Master’s station is at the beginning of the day and the senior warden’s is at the end, the postulant is brought from darkness to light, there are High Twelve and Low Twelve. Masons are to know each other in the darkness as well as in the light; in the darkness a man needs a guide, in the daylight he can guide himself; a man heles, or buries, his secrets in the dark where no other can find them. These meanings cluster around the symbolism of the Pavement; perhaps the sun is meant by the Blazing Star (as it was once called) and is in the center because it makes the day by its shining and the night by the shadow it casts; and perhaps the rope around the perimeter reminds men that while for the world day and night go on endlessly, they do not/or him, and only a few days are going to be tied together in his span of time, so that it is good for him, as is the Masons creed, to work while it is day for soon the night cometh when no man can work.

The Masonic Service Association of North America