A three sided polygon, beign the first enclosed shape possible with straight lines. The Triangle is important in Masonry due to its connection to the sacred number three and also because it has long represented the concept of the Deity in geometrical form.
There is no symbol more important in its significance, more various in its application, or more generally diffused throughout the whole system of Freemasonry, than the triangle. An examination of it, therefore, cannot fail to be interesting to the Masonic student.
The equilateral triangle appears to have been adopted by nearly all the nations of antiquity as a symbol of the Deity, in some of his forms or emanations, and hence, probably, the prevailing influence of this symbol was carried into the Jewish system, where the Yod within the triangle was made to represent the Tetragrammaton, or sacred name of God.
The equilateral triangle, says Brother D. W. Nash (Freemasons Magazine iv, page 294), "viewed in the light of the doctrines of those who gave it currency as a divine symbol, represents the Great First Cause, the Creator and Container of all things, as one and indivisible, manifesting Himself in an infinity of forms and attributes in this visible universe." Among the Egyptians, the darkness through which the candidate for initiation was made to pass was symbolized by the trowel, an important Masonic implement, which, in their system of hieroglyphics, has the form of a triangle. The equilateral triangle they considered as the most perfect of figures, and a representative of the great principle of animated existence, each of its sides referring to one of the three departments of creation, the animal, vegetable, and mineral.
The equilateral triangle is to be found scattered throughout the Masonic system. It forms in the Royal Arch the figure within which the jewels of the officers are suspended. It is in the Ineffable Degrees the sacred Delta, everywhere presenting itself as the symbol of the Grand Architect of the Universe. In Ancient Craft Masonry, it is constantly exhibited as the element of important ceremonies. The seats of the principal officers are arranged in a triangular form, the three Lesser Lights have the same situation, and the Square and Compasses form, by their union on the greater light, two triangles meeting at their bases. In short, the equilateral triangle may be considered as one of the most constant forms of Masonic symbolism.
The right-angled triangle is another form of this figure which is deserving of attention. Among the Egyptians, it was the symbol of universal nature; the base representing Osiris, or the male principle; the perpendicular, Isis, or the female principle; and the hypotenuse, Horus, their son, or the product of the male and female principle.
This symbol was received by Pythagoras from the Egyptians during his long sojourn in that country, and with it he also learned the peculiar property it possessed, namely, that the sum of the squares of the two shorter sides is equal to the square of the longest side-symbolically expressed by the formula, that the product of Osiris and Isis is Horus. This figure has been adopted in the Third Degree of Freemasonry, and will be there recognized as the Forty-seventh Problem of Euclid (see Forty-seventh Problem).
While the Triangle is seldom directly called to the Mason's attention there are but few of the symbols used in Masonry which are so frequently placed before the Craftsman for him to recognize and to contemplate if he but will. The presentations of this symbol are, however, generally unemphasized and more or less veiled because that is the way of Masonry with respect to its first-rate symbols, i.e., the Cube, Point within the Circle, Square, Apron, etc., as distinguished from its second-rate symbols, the Beehive, Ark and Anchor, etc. And these repeated and partially concealed presentations are made with the design that the Mason will have aroused in him a Spirit of Inquiry and, so, will turn his attention to the symbol and, by his Masonic Craftsmanship, bring himself to a knowledge of its history and to an understanding of its symbolic significance.
The Triangle appears in Masonry in two forms, the Right Triangle, i.e., that Triangle which has one of its angles a right angle, ninety degrees, or the one-fourth part of a Circle, and the Equilateral Triangle, i.e., that Triangle which has all its sides equal, each to the other, and, of course, has each of its angles equal to sixty degrees. Although these two Triangles have, symbolically and historically, certain features in common, for example, both were used as symbols by the Egyptians and both present the significant number Three, yet their symbolic suggestions are in many respects so different that they may, not improperly, be considered as distinct symbols.
Of all the references to this Symbol this is obviously not the place to speak, but any Mason can profitably occupy himself in discovering them. A few examples of the exoteric presentations and references to it are: the Forty-Seventh Problem of Euclid; the Square of the Square and Compass, which Square, when a third, and completing side is supplied, presents the Right Triangle; the stations of the Three Principal Officers of the Lodge, together with the Altar, which define two Right Triangles; and the Altar together with the Three Lesser Lights, which, when those Lights are placed, as in some jurisdictions, at the stations of the Three Principal Officers, rather than, as in other jurisdictions, about the Altar, mark out two Right Triangles. Various other examples could be cited, as there are many, but to do so would but defeat one of the principles of Masonry the Mason must learn of Masonry by his own effort.
The Right Triangle is to the Mason, as it was to the ancient Egyptians, the symbol of Universal Nature. The Egyptians, long prior to Pythagoras, the statement in the Monitor notwithsanding, knew of this symbol and of those peculiar properties set forth in the statement of the Forty-Seventh Problem, "In any right triangle the square (A in the figure) of the side (hypotenuse) opposite the right angle is equal to the sum of the square (B and C) of the sides (legs) making the right angle." And the Egyptians, making use of these properties for purposes of symbolism, considered one leg as symbolizing Osiris, the Male, considered the other leg as symbolizing Isis, the Female, and considered the hypotenuse as symbolizing Horus, the Son and product of Isis and Osiris. Thus, plainly, the Right Triangle presents to the Mason, for his most earnest and devout consideration, God's Great Handiwork Universal Nature.
Moreover, this symbol, in calling attention to Osiris and Isis, points out to the Mason the probable Raurea of an important Legend and teaches him that that Legend is but another and, so far as the specific character of its incidents are concerned, relatively "up to date" version of a world-old legend told and retold to us, as to the ancient Egyptians, by the rising, sinking, and rerising Sun and by the Procession of the Seasons.
Again, the Right Triangle, in calling attention to the Forty- Seventh Problem and, more particularly, to the graphical representation of that Problem (as in the figure), brings up for contemplation one of the oldest and most widespread symbols in the world the Swastika (heavy lines in the figure). Here, then, is presented to the Mason a symbol in the study of whose history he can profitably spend many hours, learning of its occurrence in Egypt, Persia, China, Japan, India, Europe and America; of the Burial Mound at Baharahat, India, dating from the third century B.C. and having its surrounding wall in the form of an immense swastika over one hundred feet in diameter; of the swastika's proud position as "that ancient Aryan symbol which was probably the first to be made with a definite intention and a consecutive meaning" (Enc. Brit. 4 641a), etc., etc.
This symbol, while perhaps more emphatically presented to the Royal Arch Mason than to the Master Mason is, nevertheless, a possession of the Master Mason and one that, however unobtrusive the references to it may be, is by no means absent from the Master's Lodge. Exoterically the Equilateral Triangle is presented by the Compass of the Square and Compass as, when that symbol is opened to the extent of sixty degrees (as it should be) and a third, and connecting, side, connecting the ends of the legs, is supplied, we have presented the Equilateral Triangle. Again, when the Three Lesser Lights are placed about the Altar they define the Equilateral Triangle.
From time immemorial the Equilateral Triangle has been preeminently the symbol for Deity. For the Triangle is the primary figure from which all others are built up and the Equilateral Triangle, being wholly symmetrical, is the one perfect Triangle and thus clearly becomes the symbol for that Perfect Being in which all things find their beginning This Symbol is so completely appropriated to the purpose of a symbol for Deity and Perfection that to here treat of its various other, and decidedly minor, symbolic significances would but obscure its pre-eminent symbolic meaning.
In conclusion, then, the Triangle, in the two forms here discussed, teaches the Mason that far more lies in Masonic symbolism and in Masonic instruction than appears upon the surface; causes him to contemplate Universal Nature; points out the probable source of an important symbolic Legend; draws his attention to what is probably, the world's oldest symbol, and fixes his attention upon Deity and Perfection. Is not the study of Masonic symbolism worth the while?