The following was taken from a website published by the Rosslyn Templars.
At one time, when very few were literate, the use of symbolism was widespread. It was a form of 'visual shorthand' which suggested abstract concepts as well particular stories. Symbols were easily recognised, and understood, but as literacy increased the need for symbolism declined. In centuries past, symbols, especially religious symbols, were common throughout Christendom. It did not matter where one lived, one would recognise most, if not all, of the symbols although there were, of course, local variations. When a series of symbols were associated a whole string of ideas could be conveyed. At the simplest level symbols could be used to relate a story, a parable, an event by grouping, in sequence, a number of symbols. At the most complex level a Cathedral (itself a Christian symbol) contains thousands of individual symbols which, in combination, present a vast range of parables, theological concepts and even debates. In this more secular world the use of, and the understanding of, symbolism has been and continues to be reduced. Like many other very old institutions and fraternities Freemasonry has built up, over the centuries, its own 'visual shorthand' and the understanding of this has declined although the use of symbolism has not. Thus we have the curious situation within Freemasonry where symbols continue to be used but the reason and meaning of them is now little understood. The reason for this process of decline is not at all clear but one cannot help but notice that throughout the 20th century, with huge intakes of new members, Lodges had to concentrate on Initiating, Passing and Raising these candidates. Prior to this upsurge of interest in Freemasonry, especially after the First World War (1914 - 1919) Lodges spent a considerable amount of time educating its new and existing members by means of lectures, debates and written material (pamphlets, magazines and handouts).
No doubt the intention was to return to that system of education after the war but oddly the very success of Freemasonry attracting candidates ensure that all their attention was ploughed into 'processing' the candidates. Even the creation of a large number of new Lodges after WWW I., and to a lesser extent after WWW II, did not allow the old system of teaching the precepts of Freemasonry to be restored. By the time things had settled down after the Second World War at least one generation of Scottish Freemasons had been lost and with them their knowledge and ability to educate new Freemasons. Curiously, the Rosslyn Templars perceive positive signs within the present decline in the number of new candidates for Freemasonry. An 'insider' explained that there was now a new opportunity to return to the previous method of educating the Brethren, not only new members. It was 'simply' a matter of making it happen. Interesting we are aware that many Lodges are choosing to have a 'slower' timetable than previously. For instance many Lodges are now extending the 'use' of new candidates by interspersing the Degrees with Lectures. Previously, therefore, a candidate might take four months, depending upon circumstances, to take all the Degrees available in a Scottish Lodge. The addition of Lectures and other educational efforts mean that it can now take a candidate more than a year to complete the series of ceremonies.
This leads us to contemplate the symbolism that freemasons see in every lodge room. The list of symbols is long but those actually used by each lodge is much shorter. There are of course those symbols one will see in every lodge. There are the columns, the altar and the letter G. There are swords. ashlars, a device called a Lewis and there are working tools. These symbols are used by lodges to a greater or lesser degree in each of their ceremonies.
I have tried to capture here those implements and devices which have symbolic meaning to the Temperance of Brisbane and Fernberg Lodge, number 123,UGLQ. The interpretation for these are mostly my own and is open to challenge by anyone. The list is not exhaustive but is meant to convey to the casual reader what they might expect to see in a lodge room.
As one is preparing to enter the lodge room, at the door there is an officer called a Tyler. He is armed with a drawn sword. The sword of course symbolises protection. He is protecting the secrecy of the ceremonies being carried out behind the door.
As you open the door, there is a curtain drawn across the opening. Could this be interpreted as the divide between the inner and outer sanctum. Sitting by the door just beyond the curtain is the Inner Guard. He is also armed, not with a sword but with a dagger like weapon called a poignard, yet another symbol for protection.
Look around the lodge room. The most obvious symbol is the letter G hanging from the ceiling. A reference to God perhaps, or is a reference to Geometry? There are freemasons who will argue about this. There is an altar. In this lodge it is located below the G. The altar is located in the centre of the lodge room as is the G, an important Masonic symbol signifying a centre. Everything moves around this mystical centre just as our solar system moves around the sun. This may have hidden one of the greatest secrets of Freemasonry of the past. That is the idea of a heliocentric universe, a heretical idea to some even to this day. Farthest from the door there is the high backed masters chair and pedestal (referred to as the East). The high back is the highest in the lodge room, a chair of power.
Given the orientation, then the door must be the West. Look to your immediate right and there is another chair and pedestal. This is the senior warden's. This isn't as high as the masters, but still high, also signifying power. To the South then is the junior warden's chair and pedestal. There is, beside each of the principal officer's pedestals, a column. The columns replicate the three main orders of Greek architecture, the Doric, the Ionic and the Corinthian. These have no real significance to this lodge's ceremonies but each bears a light. These are important symbols regarding knowledge or rather the getting of knowledge.
Above the Master's chair there is a five pointed star. This symbolises many things. In ritual it symbolises Venus or the bright morning star. But it has a deeper meaning. Among the Pythagoreans, five was a mystical number. Rejecting unity, it was the union of the first even and first uneven numbers. It symbolised the juxtaposition of order and disorder, life and death or happiness and misfortune. The Pythagoreans were philosophers who based their philosophies on geometry. They were obsessed with the relationship between numbers or groups of numbers. They saw order in geometry.
In the top left hand corner of this page, you will see the tessellated square or Masonic pavement. Every lodge room has one of these. In fact it is part of the furniture of the lodge. At each corner is a tassel on the end of a short cord. These four cords are described as referring to the four principal points, the Guttural, Pectoral, Manual, and Pedal, and through them to the four cardinal virtues, Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice. (Mackey's Encyclopedia)
Going back to the East, the master is wearing a blue collar from which hangs a pendant. In Masonic terms this pendant is described as a jewel. Each principal officer in the lodge wears a jewel. The design of the jewel signifies his office. A representation of the jewel of the particular office is attached to each of the three pedestals of the Master and his two Wardens. Other officers wear a jewel signifying their position as well. Position should not be confused with rank. Everyone meets in a lodge as an equal.