In A Word: The 3 Lesser Lights

By Bro. Stephen F. W. of Lodge Germania 1036 UGLNSW

To My Brother,

Sidere Mens Eadem Mutato

Latin. Though the Stars may change, the Mind remains the same.


The purpose of this short paper is to unveil and illustrate, in a word, the 3 symbolic Lesser Lights of Masonry. I would like to take this opportunity to challenge your preconceptions and draw you out of your comfort zone, so as to broaden your understanding of the world around you.

If towards the end I may induce you to engage in quiet contemplation, to consider the Oneness of the Supreme Being, the Unity of Creation, and the Universality of the Great Architect's Divine Plan, then this paper would have succeeded in achieving its objective.

A Simple Word

This one simple word above would be immediately recognisable to anyone familiar with East Asian typography. Even if you are not, it will soon become obvious that its construction and meaning transcends all dialects and languages to reach into the very core of human understanding. It is a common word used daily in the modern world by billions of people across the globe, yet its origins are so ancient that its invention has been lost over millennia to the mists of time.

Indeed, this word is of such primordial origins that its written form, and its meaning, is completely identical across all the modern East Asian languages. Only in its pronounciation do the languages differ. In Chinese it is pronounced ming (Mandarin and Cantonese) or min (Hakka). In Japanese it is min (Toon), mei (Kan'on) or myo (Goon). In Korean it is myeong. In Vietnamese it is minh.

Literal Meaning

Collins Chinese-English Dictionary:

(ming): 1. Bright

2. Clear

3. Open

4. Perceptive

5. Sight

6. Light

7. Understand (pt, pp understood)

8. Show (pt showed)(pp shown)

Please note that this word can also be used as a given name (eg. Ho Chi Minh) or a surname (eg. Ming Dynasty).

Symbolic Meaning

Now that we know the literal meaning of the word ming from a modern dictionary definition, we can begin the much more interesting process of unveiling its deeper symbolic meaning. You may have noticed that this one word, although an integral and independent word in its own right, is composed of two parts split down the middle.

If we examine the left and right hand sides of the word independently, we will find that they are in fact independent words, with separate meanings that can stand on their own. Logically, the origin of these two words must pre-date even the word ming which they form when conjoined.

The word on the left, ri, means The Sun. The word on the right, yue, means the moon.

日 + 月 = 明

The Sun + The Moon =

Enlightenment & Understanding, (Wisdom)

Thus you will see the 3 Lesser Lights of Masonry revealed! The Sun on the left and The Moon on the right, which once properly conjoined bring about enlightenment and understanding. What is wisdom but a synonym for enlightenment and understanding? What is the Worshipful Master and the Ionic column, but the very embodiment of wisdom in the lodge?

However, the unveiling is not yet complete! We must delve even deeper into ming, for the word holds still more secrets to yield. East Asian typography is a living written language, which has evolved over millenia into the many forms which we find today in the modern world. New words are regularly added to the vocabulary as needs arise, but many of the most basic and commonly used words have changed surprisingly little over these many thousands of years.

Like many of the most ancient and primordial written languages, such as Egyptian Hieroglyhics, East Asian Typography is Logographic in nature. Other written languages such as Greek, Latin or English are Phonetic in nature. Logographic characters represent words, whilst Phonetic characters represent sounds. Therefore, the very earliest written characters in East Asian Typography are really just symbols, which were originally designed to visually resemble the things whose meanings they conveyed.

Notice the elongated and curved contour of the symbol for The Moon, yue, which was originally designed to resemble the crescent moon in the night sky. I cannot even speculate as to why the symbol for The Sun, ri, somehow became square over time.

The series of symbols above illustrate the continuous evolution of the word ming over approximately 3400 years. The symbol on the far left was found on Bronze Age animal bones and turtle shells dating from 1400 BCE, whilst the symbol on the far right is the modern word as it is used today. It is very likely that the very earliest examples of the word ming date from the Neolithic period approximately 8600 years ago, when some primative man decided to draw a picture of The Sun and The Moon next to each other.

Speculative Meaning

Thus you will see that this word really does transcend all dialects and languages to reach into the very core of human understanding. It is the 3 Lesser Lights of Masonry, and yet it is also just a stylised picture of the Sun and the Moon. It is such a simple and manifestly obvious truth that if you showed it to a 1 year old child, he or she could understand. Indeed, it is us adults who have over time, lost sight of our own wisdom and actively learned how to not understand.

I cannot say whether the Antediluvians invented the word ming, but if they saw it written down they most certainly would have recognised and understood what it meant. I do not know whether builders at the Tower of Babel became confounded and forgot its meaning. But I do recognise the inherent wisdom in the words "except ye... become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven". They understand that the most important truths are really very simple.

After all, why should we find any of this the slightest bit surprising? To find the 3 Lesser Lights of Masonry so perfectly encapsulated in a single word written down with symbols 8600 years ago in a far flung corner on the edge of the world? When the Neolithic man on the Yangtze River lifted up his eyes and looked out to the Heavens, what did he see? He saw the same thing the man on the Euphrates saw. He saw the same thing the man on the Thames or the Rhine saw. If you think about it, it's really awfully similar to what we see today.

He saw the Sun and the Moon moving across the sky, regular as clockwork. He utilized that Divine Spark bestowed upon him by the Supreme Being from which all wisdom springs. He began to accumulate knowledge and began to understand the world around him.

It's a good thing he did too... because otherwise there wouldn't have been anyone around to build the Great Wall!

Glory to the Builders!