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more light #315

The Greater & Lesser Lights

by Ed Halpaus
Grand Lodge Education Officer
Grand Lodge of A. F. & A. M. of Minnesota

Dear Masonic Student,

It seems that there is always interest in the ceremonies and degrees within the various jurisdictions of Freemasonry throughout the world. Below is some information from Freemasons’ Guide and Compendium regarding the Greater and Lesser Lights from England about the time the book was written. I’m not sure it’s still the way Brother Bernard Jones describes it, but it may be.

The Greater and the Lesser Lights

In the eighteenth century the ‘Moderns’ at first regarded their three big candles carried in high candlesticks as the three great lights, the purpose of which was “not only to show the due course of the sun which rises in the east, has its meridian in the south and declension in the west. but also to light men to, at and from their labor ” and also to represent “The Sun, Moon and the Master of the Lodge.”

The ‘Antients’ took a less obvious view of the matter; to them the three great lights were the Volume of the Sacred Law, the Square and Compasses, while the three lesser lights were the candles of the Master and his Wardens. To the ‘Moderns’ the Volume of the Sacred Law, the Square and Compasses were known as the ‘furniture’ of the lodge;  they are still often known in that way.   Probably by the end of the century many of the ‘Modern’ lodges had come to look at the matter differently, and we find the Lodge of Reconciliation, after the union, adopting the ‘Antient’ practice as to the great lights, and agreeing that the three lesser lights are situated in the east, south, and west, and are meant to represent the sun, moon, and Master of the lodge.

In the old lodges the candles were arranged to form a triangle on the Floor of the lodge, a position which they still occupy in a few of the older Lodges, but mostly nowadays (an arrangement dating back to the early nineteenth century) the candles are at the side of the Master and the two Wardens, where the three tall candlesticks seem to do duty for the three tall pillars present in the old lodges.  There does not appear to be any reason why the candlestick should be on the left or right of a pedestal, and, although the right side is the more general, the left is the more convenient so far as the work with the Candidate is concerned.

In some old French lodges there was a custom of using nine candles in the Third Degree only, in three clusters of three each, retaining the triangular arrangement. Apart from this, it is not thought that there was ever a custom of arranging the candles in different ways to indicate the degree in which the lodge was working.

In existing old lodges there must be great diversity with regard to the positions of the candles and with regard to the customs associated with them. For example, in the Lodge of Love and Honour, No. 75, Falmouth, founded in 1751, the candle in the east is lit before the Master enters the lodge. The lodge having been opened, the Wardens approach the Master’s light with their candles, light them, return and place them in position, and resume their chairs. The candles stand out on the floor, Candidate passing between them and the pedestals.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014