The content of this short talk was prepared by V\Ill\Bro Keith Stewart  33° our Grand Librarian as a paper for a Supreme Council Annual Report.


There is a powerful symbolism in the seven circles in their own right, although there is no explanation in our ritual of the seven periods of the worlds existence which they represent.

To all ancient peoples, including the Babylonians and the Egyptians, as well as the Greeks and Romans, the concept of seven circles was sacred because their collection of gods had their names remembered in the seven divine planets moving in circular orbits.
The two words considered separately are important as Masonic symbols.
It is the circles that make our Masonic acquirement complete.

The concept of the circle as the perfect shape, derives from Plato and so dominated astronomy for two thousand years that when Kepler had to acknowledge that the planetary orbits were elliptical he referred to his discovery as “a cartload of dung”.

Likewise it is the number seven that makes a Lodge perfect.


We see this symbolism in the winding stair of the second degree.
The liberal arts and sciences are seven in number, a group of three forming the Trivium, the threefold path to learning, followed by the Quadrivium, the four ways to knowledge from the classical times to the seventeenth century.
The proper steps of the third degree are likewise a grouping of three and four.
This grouping of three and four also appears in our Rose Croix ladder.
The symbol of seven also finds its source in Greek philosophy, from the Pythagoreans, who accounted seven as the perfect number, consisting as it does, of three plus four, representing the triangle and square.
For us, the square of craft Masonry, linked with the triangle of the Trinity.
It is in the Old Testament that the number seven becomes especially sacred.
The seven days of Creation ended on the Sabbath.
This was further developed by the Jews into a system with the seventh year becoming a sabbatical year. After seven times seven years there came the Jubilee or fiftieth year.
It is said that the Hebrew verbs “to swear” means literally to come under the influence of seven.
It would seem likely that in these seven days, or periods of creation lies the key to the seven periods of the worlds existence.
Our ritual originated at a time of absolute belief in the seven days of creation, before geologists and evolutionists attributed much greater age to the earth. Moreover the ritual was not alive as it now is: “the six periods ... which will close with the second advent... of which the seventh circle is an emblem”.
In this century there has been more than one change between our present reading and a version which read “The seven periods of the worlds existence which will close with the Second Advent...”.
This is an important change because it brings the Second Advent from the end of the seventh circle to the end of the sixth circle.
It was indeed so substantial a change that inquiry was made to Supreme Council in England as to why it was made.
Their reply advised that no record had been kept as to the reason for the change but they informally enclosed with the reply, a copy of a letter from the Grand Secretary General, to an Illustrious Brother which suggested as a source the five ages of Hesiod, a Greek poet of the 6th century B.C.
These were;
1.  The Golden Age
That idyllic time of innocence and perfection.
2.  The Silver Age
When labour came into the world.
3.  The Brazen or Warlike Age
4.  The Heroic Age of Homer
5.  The Iron Age of Hesiod’s own day.

The suggestion then went on to say that we make the seven by adding

6.  The Christian Era
7.  Eternity

There had been some previous thought here about Hesiod but he was considered too remote as a source and no more suitable really than the “seven ages of man” in Shakespeares “As You Like It”.


It was hard to abandon the thought that the seven periods had to be related to the seven days of the week, since the literal acceptance of the Creation, as truth stifled scientific thinking until well after our ritual was devised.
Even a naturalist as great as Linnaeus accepted it without question, and our craft ritual still carries evidence from the lifetime work of James Ussher, Professor of Divinity and Trinity at the college of Dublin, and Archbishop of Armagh, who published in 1654 the fruits of his tireless and scholarly research among Biblical texts, culminating in his calculation that the Creation had occurred on 26th October, 4004 BC at 9.00 am.

Our first clue as to a source came from “The White Goddess” by Robert Graves, who wrote a book about cult worships.
In writing about Gwion, a mysterious cult figure in Welsh romance, who either wrote, or was written about in bardic verses in the thirteenth century,
Graves refers to a table constructed by Nennius of the seven ages of the world based upon the days of Creation,
beginning with:
Sunday - the day of light and lasting from Adam, the first man to see the light, to Noah.
Monday - the day of water, from Noah to Abraham.
Tuesday - the day of trees and pasture, lasting from Abraham to David.
Wednesday - the day of wisdom, from Solomon to Daniel.
Thursday - the day of sea beasts and fishes, from Daniel to John the Baptist.
Friday - the day of land beasts, but also of man and love, from John the Baptist, to Judgement Day.
And the Seventh day,
Saturday - the day of repose, when the Lord will come to judge the living and the dead.
Robert Graves is such a considerable scholar that it would be easy to take him on trust, but when one goes back to Nennius himself one finds that Homer is sometimes at odds, for the story there is quite different.
Nennius who is often wrongly called the Abbot of Bangor, is traditionally regarded as the author of “Historia Britonum - A History of the Britons”, written near the close of the eighth century.

Certainly this book has a chapter headed “De Sex Aetatibus Mundi - On the Six Ages of the World” but the chapter is merely half a page in length and the six ages are badly listed in two or three lines.
In other words all the embellishment is from the Welsh bard Gwion rather than Nennius.
As a source this comes within the time frame for our ritual since one of the many manuscripts of “A History of the Britons” was published in 1691.
It would be interesting to see an early English ritual to see when the seven circles were introduced. Early exposes published, omit any mention of the seven circles in their rendering of the ritual of the First Point.
Moreover it seems that the seven circles belong only to the English ritual since they do not appear in the Scottish ritual today.
There is however another prospect as a source. Although Isaac Newton accepted that earth and the other planets were created simultaneously, he left a hint.


The Comte de Buffon, one of the flurry of thinkers leading the French Revolution, in his books “Natural History”(1749) and “Epochs of Nature”(1779) picked up this hint from Newton, that comets coming under the influence of gravity fall into the sun and speculated that in such a collision, fragments  may have been knocked off into space to cool down and form planets.
He began experiments to test this theory by using glass globes brought to white heat, and then cooled to temperatures acceptable to human contact and came up with a published calculation that the age of earth was about 75,000 years.
He recorded privately that he had prudently scaled down his real figure of three million years so as not to shock the Creationists.
He found also, by a happy coincidence that his vastly extended calendar was divided into precisely seven epochs.
The seven days of the Genesis were expanded.
In the first epoch the earth and planets took shape.
In the second the earth solidified, great mountain ranges were formed with their mineral deposits.
In the third, gasses and water vapours condensed, covering the earth with flood, when fishes and marine creatures flourished.
In the fourth epoch with further eruption and earthquakes the land masses were reshaped.
In the fifth, land animals appeared.
In the sixth the earth took on its present form.
And finally in the seventh epoch man appeared, to begin his attempt to conquer Nature and realise his own incalculable future.
Although Buffon’s theory was published in France, its time was right for our first ritual. His idea is in line with the eager Masonic curiosity of the day about new scientific knowledge, but it aligned with our previous ritual with seven circles complete before the Second Advent.
Nennius has the advantage of placing the Second Advent after the sixth circle.
Nevertheless de Buffon seems to be less sympathetic and more acceptable to our modern mind than Nennius or Gwion.
Whether it was  either of these, or neither, we may never know.

Maybe some day, someone will locate the first appearance of the seven circles in a ritual, but it may be expecting too much to think that this may tell us exactly whence came the symbolism of the seven ages of the world’s existence!




Back to Main Page