from the book Encylcopedia of Freemasonry & its Kindred Sciences
by Albert C. Mackey M. D.
This book is in the public domain. The text was duplicated from the book using Optical Character Recognition software and errors may be present.
Point within a Circle - This is a symbol of great interest and importance, and brings us into close connection with the early symbolism of the solar orb and the universe, which was predominant in the ancient sun-worship. The lectures of Freemasonry give what modern Monitors have made an exoteric explanation of the symbol, in telling us that the point represents an individual Brother, the circle the boundary line of his duty to God and man, and the two perpendicular parallel lines the patron saints of the Order—Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist.
But that this was not always its symbolic signification, we may collect from the true history of its connection with the phallus of the Ancient Mysteries.
The phallus was among the Egyptians the symbol of fecundity, expressed by the male generative principle. It was communicated from the Rites of Osiris to the religious festivals of Greece. Among the Asiatics the same emblem, under the name of Miriam, was, in connection with the female principle, worshiped as the symbols of the Great Father and Mother, or producing causes of the human race, after their destruction by the deluge.
On this subject, Captain Wilford (Asiatic Researches) remarks;
"that it was believed in India, that, at the general deluge, everything was involved in the common destruction except the male and female principles, or organs of generation, which were destined to produce a new race, and to repeople the earth when the waters had subsided from its surface. The female principle, symbolized by the moon, assumed the form of a lunette or crescent; while the male principle, symbolized by the sun, assuming the form of the lingam, placed himself erect in the center of the lunette, like the mast of a ship.
The two principles, in this united form, floated on the surface of the waters during the period of their prevalence on the earth; and thus became the progenitors of a new race of men."
Here, then, was the first outline of the point within a circle, representing the principle of fecundity, and doubtless the symbol, connected with a different history, that, namely, of Osiris, was transmitted by the Indian philosophers to Egypt, and to the other nations, who derived, as is elsewhere shown, all their rites from the East.
It was in deference to this symbolism that, as Godfrey Higgins remarks (Anecalypsis ii, page 306), circular temples were in the very earliest ages universally erected in cyclar numbers to do honor to the Deity.
In India, stone circles, or rather their ruins, are everywhere found; among the oldest of which, according to Moore (Pancheon, page 242) is that of Dipaldiana, and whose execution will compete with that of the Greeks. In the oldest monuments of the Druids we find, as at Stonehenge and Avebury, the circle of stones. In fact, all the temples of the Druids were circular, with a single stone erected in the center. A Druidical monument in Pembrokeshire, called Y Cromlech, is described as consisting of several rude stones pitched on end in a circular order, and in the midst of the circle a vast stone placed on several pillars. Near Keswick, in Cumberland, says Doctor Oliver (Signs and Symbols, page 174) is another specimen of this Druidical symbol. On a hill stands a circle of forty stones placed perpendicularly, Of about five feet and a half in height, and one stone in the center of greater altitude. Among the Scandinavians, the hall of Odin contained twelve seats, disposed in the form of a circle, for the principal gods, with an elevated seat in the center for Odin. Scandinavian monuments of this form are still to be found in Scania, Zealand, and Jutland. But it is useless to multiply examples of the prevalence of this symbol among the ancients. Now let us apply this knowledge to the Masonic symbol.
We have seen that the phallus and the point within a circle come from the same source, and must have been identical in signification. But the phallus was the symbol of fecundity, or the male generative principle, which by the ancients was supposed to be the sun, they looking to the creature and not to the Creator, because by the sun's heat and light the earth is made prolific, and its productions are brought to maturity. The point within the circle was then originally the symbol of the sun; and as the lingam of India stood in the center of the lunette, so it stands within the center of the Universe, typified by the circle, impregnating and vivifying it with its heat. And thus the astronomers have been led to adopt the same figure as their symbol of the sun.
Now it is admitted that the Lodge represents the world or the universe, and the Master and Wardens within it represent the sun in three positions. Thus we arrive at the true interpretation of the Masonic symbolism of the point within the circle. It is the same thing, but under a different form, as the Master and Wardens of a Lodge. The Master and Wardens are symbols of the sun, the Lodge of the universe, or world, just as the point is the symbol of the same sun, and the surrounding circle of the universe.
To the above observations by Doctor Mackey, Brother Charles T. McClenachan adds these two paragraphs:
An addition to the above may be given, by referring to one of the oldest symbols among the Egyptians, and found upon their monuments, which was a circle centered by an A U M, supported by two erect parallel serpents; the circle being expressive of the collective people of the world, protected by the parallel attributes, the Power and Wisdom of the Creator. The Alpha and Omega, or the will representing the Egyptian omnipotent God, surrounded by His creation, having for a boundary no other limit than what may come within his boundless scope, his Wisdom and Power. At times this circle is represented by the Ananta (a Sanskrit word meaning eternity), a serpent with its tail in its mouth. The parallel serpents were of the cobra species.
It has been suggestively said that the Masonic symbol refers to the circuits or circumambulation of the initiate about the sacred Altar, which supports the three Great Lights as a central point, while the Brethren stand in two parallel lines.
As knowledge of the customs of gilds, fraternities, churches, and of popular customs in the Middle Ages is increased it becomes ever more evident that the two Sts. John Days were in everybody's mind the two fixed points of the year, and that where we to measure time in our minds from New Year's Day (St. John the Evangelist's Day was equivalent to it) they measured it from two extremes, one the shortest day in winter, the other the longest day in summer.
The early prominence of these two Days in Masonic customs need not there fore mean that the days were chosen for their religious significance; it rather may mean that they were chosen for their convenience as a calendar. It is doubtful if Masons ever thought of the Sts. John as their Patron Saints until a late period; from the records of the Mason Companies (as noted on another page in this Supplement), some of them took St. Thomas as their Patron.
The Monitorial Lectures make it plain that the two Parallel Lines represent the Sts. John Evangelist and Baptist, not in their theological significance but in their sense as a calendar; the days named after those, Saints, rather than the Saints themselves, are denoted.
Since those days were the two extremes of the year, the sun is correctly represented as swinging in its circuit between them, for it cannot move south this side of the fixed point of the day named for the Evangelist nor go north beyond the fixed point of the day represented by the Baptist. The two days are the limits of its circle, therefore the circle is shone set between the lines. The Point Within the Circle represents the year, a year of work, a year out of a man's life; at least it does if the history of its use is a true guide to its symbolic meaning. To follow that guide is not to narrow the symbolism down to a mere fact in the calendar, but is to canalize it, and to hold it fast to its Masonic meaning, lest commentators wander off into regions that have no connection with Freemasonry.