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THE LETTER G AND THE SWASTIKA

Bro. René Guénon

IN The Great Triad, a propos of polar symbolism and the Chinese word i, designating
unity (the pole star is called Tai-i, that is, the ‘Great Unity'), we had occasion to make
several observations on the Masonic symbolism of the letter ‘G', the normal position
of which is also ‘polar; and drew a parallel with the letter ‘I’ representing the ‘first
name of God' for the Fedeli d'Amore. 1 This connection was justified by the fact that
the letter ‘G', which could not in itself be considered as a true symbol inasmuch as it
belongs to modern languages that have nothing sacred or traditional about them, but
which stands for God 2 according to the English Masonic rituals and is indeed the ini-
tial letter of the word God itself, has, in certain cases at least, been regarded as a
substitute for the Hebrew yod, symbol of the Principle or of Unity, in virtue of a pho-
netic assimilation between God and yod.3 These few remarks on our part were taken
as the starting-point for researches which have given rise to some new findings of
the greatest interest,4 and this is why we think it worthwhile to return to this subject in
order to complete what we have already said.

First of all, it should be noted that in an ancient catechism of the grade of the Com-
panion, 5 the question What does the ‘G' denote? is expressly answered, Geometry
or the Fifth Science (that is, the science occupying the fifth rank in the traditional
enumeration of the ‘seven liberal arts’, the esoteric transposition of which in medieval
initiations we have already pointed out on other occasions);6 this interpretation in no
way contradicts the assertion that this same letter stands for God, God being espe-
cially designated in this grade as the ‘Great Geometer of the Universe’, and on the
other hand, what gives it all its importance is that, in the oldest known manuscripts of
operative Masonry, Geometry is constantly identified with Masonry itself; and this is
something that cannot be considered negligible. Besides, as we shall soon see, it
appears that the letter ‘G; as the first letter of the word Geometry, has taken the
place of Γ [gamma], its Greek equivalent, which the very origin of the word ‘Geome-
try' sufficiently justifies (and here, at least, a modern language is no longer involved).
Furthermore, this letter Γ presents a certain interest in itself from the point of view of
1 The Great Triad, chap. 25.

2 This italicized English expression, and the others to follow in this chapter, were printed in English in
the French text. [Ed.]

3 The author of a work on Masonic symbolism believed it necessary to address to us, in somewhat
discourteous terms, a criticism on this point, as if we ourselves were responsible for this phonetic as-
similation; nevertheless, we are not responsible, any more than we are for the fact that formerly the
English Masons also identified the three letters of the same word God with the initials of the three He-
braic words Gamel, Oz, and Dabar (Beauty, Strength, Wisdom). One may think what one likes of the
value of such parallels (and there are still others), but one is in any case obliged to take note of them,
at least historically.
4
Marius Lepage, ‘La Lettre G' in Le Symbolisme, November 1948; article in the Speculative Mason,
July 1949, written in connection with the previous article and from which the greater part of the infor-
mation used here is drawn.
5
Prichard, Masonry Dissected, 1730
6
See The Esoterism of Dante, chap. 2. [Ed.]

1
Masonic symbolism by reason of its form, which is that of the set- square 7 - obvi-
ously not true of the Latin letter 'G'.8 Now, before going further, one might well won-
der whether this does not stand in opposition to what was said about ‘G' being a
substitute for the Hebrew yod, or at least-since this substitution also existed-whether
in these circumstances there might not be reason to think that they may have been
introduced after the event and more or less belatedly; and since it really does seem
to have properly belonged to the grade of Master, such must be the case for those
who follow the most current opinion on the origin of the latter. On the contrary, to
those like ourselves who refuse for more than one reason to consider this grade as
the product of a ‘speculative' elaboration of the eighteenth century, and who rather
see in it a sort of ‘condensation' of the content of certain higher grades of operative
Masonry that, as far as possible, made up the deficiency resulting from the igno-
rance of the founders of the Great Lodge of England regarding these grades, the
whole matter appears in a very different light. It then becomes a question of the su-
perimposition of two different meanings that are by no means exclusive, something
not at all unusual in symbolism. Furthermore, until now no one seems to have no-
ticed that the two interpretations, Greek and Hebrew respectively, agree perfectly
with the specific character of the two corresponding grades, ‘Pythagorean' for the
second and 'Solomonian' for the third: and it is this above all that allows us to under-
stand what is really involved.

Let us now return to the ‘geometric' interpretation of the grade of Companion, about
which what we have said thus far is not the most interesting aspect as concerns the
symbolism of operative Masonry. In the same catechism cited above, the following
enigma is also to be found: By letters four and science five, this G aright doth stand
in a due an and proportion. 9 Here, science five obviously designates the ‘fifth sci-
ence’, that is, Geometry; as for the meaning of letters four, at first sight and by sym-
metry we might be tempted to suppose that there is a mistake and that letter must be
read in the singular, so that it would be a question of the ‘fourth letter; that is, in the
Greek alphabet, the letter ∆ [delta], which indeed is interesting symbolically because
of its triangular shape; but since this explanation would have the great defect of pre-
senting no intelligible connection with the letter ‘G; it is much more likely that it is
really a question of ‘four letters; and that the rather unusual expression science five,
7
Let us recall that the set-square, with its arms of unequal length, which has precisely the form of this
letter, represents the two sides of the right angle of the 3-4-5 right triangle which itself has, as we
have explained elsewhere, a very particular importance in operative Masonry (see ‘Lost Word and
Substituted Words; in Studies in Freemasonry and the Compagnonnage).
8
All the observations which have been made based on the farm of the letter 'G' (its likeness to a knot,
to the alchemical symbol for salt, etc.) are manifestly artificial or even fanciful; rather, they have not
the slightest connection with any recognized meanings of this letter, and in any case they are not
based on any authentic data.
9
We must not neglect to mention in passing that in response to the question Who does that G de-
note? (who and not what as before, when it was a question of Geometry), this catechism further con-
tains the following phrase: The Grand Architect and contriver of the Universe, or He that was taken up
to the Pinnacle of the Holy Temple. It will be noted that the ‘Grand Architect of the Universe' is here
identified with Christ (and therefore with the Logos), Himself linked with the symbolism of the 'corner-
stone, understood according to the sense that we have explained [see chap. 43]; the ‘pinnacle of the
Temple' (and note the curious resemblance of this word 'Pinnacle' with the Hebrew pinnah meaning
‘angle') is naturally the summit or the highest point and as such equivalent to the ‘key of the arch'
(Keystone) in Arch Masonry.

2
instead of fifth science, has been put there intentionally to render the statement yet
more enigmatic. Now, the point that may seem most obscure is this: why are four let-
ters spoken of, or, if it is really still the initial letter of the word Geometry that is
meant, why must it be quadrupled to stand aright in due art and proportion. The an-
swer, which must be related to the ‘central' or ‘polar' position of the letter ‘G', can
only be given by means of operative symbolism; and moreover, it is here that we see
the necessity of taking this letter in its Greek form, Γ, as indicated above. Indeed,
four gammas joined at right angles form the swastika, symbol, as is also the letter ‘G;
of the pole star, which is itself the symbol of, and for the operative Mason, the actual
seat of, the hidden central Sun of the Universe, Yah,10 which obviously very much
calls to mind the T'ai-i of the Far-Eastern tradition.11 In the passage from The Great
Triad which we cited at the beginning of this chapter, we had already called attention
to the existence, in the operative ritual, of a very close relationship between the letter
‘G' and the swastika; however, we did not then have knowledge of information which,
by introducing the Greek Γ; makes this relationship still more direct and completes its
explanation.12 It is well to note further that the bent part of the arms of the swastika is
considered here as representing the Great Bear, seen in four different positions in
the course of its revolution around the pole star, to which the center where the four
gammas meet naturally corresponds, and that these four positions are related to the
four cardinal points and the four seasons; and it is well known what importance the
Great Bear has in all traditions in which polar symbolism plays a part. 13 If we con-
sider that all this pertains to a symbolism which may truly be called ‘ecumenical; and
which by that very fact indicates a most direct link with the primordial tradition, we
can easily understand why ‘the polar theory has always been one of the greatest se-
crets of the true master Masons'. 14
10
In the article of the Speculative Mason from which this citation is taken, the swastika is mistakenly
called gammadion, a name which, as we have noted on several occasions, was really applied in for-
mer times to different figures altogether (see ‘Al-Arkan' [see chap. 45], where we have reproduced the
figure); but it is true nevertheless that the swastika, although never having borne that name, may also
be regarded as formed by the union of four gammas, so that this rectification of terminology alters
nothing in what we have said here.
11
We will add that the divine name Yah, which was just mentioned, is linked more especially with the
first of the three Grand Masters of the seventh degree of operative Masonry.
12
It might be objected that the documentation presented by the Speculative Mason concerning the
swastika comes from Clement Stratton, and that the latter was said to be the chief author of a 'resto-
ration' of the operative rituals in which certain elements, lost under circumstances never fully ex-
plained, were probably replaced by borrowings from speculative rituals, borrowings which cannot be
guaranteed to conform to the old ones; but this objection is invalid in the present case since we find
no trace of anything like this in speculative Masonry.
13
See also The Great Triad chap. 25, concerning the ‘City of Willows' and its symbolic representation
by a bushel measure filled with rice. .

14 It may be interesting to point out further that in the Kabbalah, the yod is considered to 6e formed
by the union of three points representing the three supreme middoth and arranged as a set-square;
the latter, moreover, is turned in the direction opposite that of the Greek letter ‘Γ' which could corre-
spond to the two opposite directions of rotation of the swastika.

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