Book Review: The Craft and its Symbols

First published in 1974, Allen Roberts’ “The Craft and Its Symbols” is an excellent guide to the symbology of the Freemasons. Appropriate for the Mason and non-mason alike, this classic volume takes the reader through the meanings behind the symbols and the connections they have with the everyday lives of the members of this ancient fraternity. It is an excellent resource for the beginning Mason or a non-mason who would like to better understand the concepts of this fraternal organization as they are divulged by the symbols.

The roots of the symbology date to ancient times. Some of the symbols can be traced to the ancient Sumerian, Persians, and Mesopotamians. Many of the better-known symbols are tools used by builders during the Middle Ages and later. All of these are comprehensively explained and illustrated by Roberts. During ancient times when the majority of people were illiterate, the symbols provided visual representations of concepts used in Masonic teachings. Today, they offer touch points that help cement the full meaning of ritual and teachings in the initiate’s mind.

Many lodges present this instructive book when members receive their Entered Apprentice Degree. It is a valuable reference as the members earn each degree. The book follows the sequence of the three degrees starting with the Entered Apprentice, then Fellow Craft, and finally the Master Mason Degree. Roberts spent many years researching the symbols, producing this volume that gives a depth of understanding to the rituals of the three degrees that no other book had achieved. For the Mason, this book is intended to provide a comprehensive learning tool that allows for full appreciation of the rituals.

Roberts’ in-depth look at the symbols gives the readers a sense of not only the symbols and their use in Masonic rituals, but their greater depth of meaning. Important truths were embedded in these symbols, truths that become a part of the Mason’s entire life-view and approach to everyday life. He emphasizes the importance of the concepts of brotherhood and ritual and their role in the building of character. The use of symbols is an essential part of this.

The cover of the book is starkly printed with the blue square and compass, the most recognizable of the Masonic symbols, set against a white background. The blue represents the Blue Lodges, those that work the three initial Masonic degrees. Blue represents the color of universal friendship. It also indicates benevolence, as it is the color of the heavens. The two colors, blue and white, are the sole colors that should be used for decorative purposes in the Master’s Lodge.

One enduring Masonic symbol is the beehive. Representing industry and a strong work ethic, the hive also brings in the concepts of cooperation as a key element in maintaining social harmony and achieving great works. It harks back to the grand accomplishments of the cathedral builders of Europe. Roberts explains that the bee works not for personal gain but for the entire swarm. With strength and an intimate knowledge of materials, the bee society works in harmony to create something that an individual would be incapable of.

Allen Roberts was a Mason, scholar, and author of over 20 books on the subject of Freemasonry including Brother Truman: The Masonic Life and Philosophy of Harry Truman, G. Washington: Master Mason, The Mystic Tie, and Freemasonry in American History.