The Symbolism of the — Masonic — Tessellated Pavement

On the floors of many cathedrals, temples and Masonic lodges, can be seen a chequer-work of black and white squares known as a ‘mosaic pavement’ or ‘tessellated pavement’.

It denotes the dual quality of everything connected with terrestrial life and the physical groundwork of human nature the mortal body and its appetites and affections.

‘The web of our life is a mingled yarn, good and ill together’, wrote Shakespeare. Everything material is characterized by inextricably interblended good and evil, light and shade, joy and sorrow, positive and negative.

What is good for me may be evil for you; pleasure is generated from pain and ultimately degenerates into pain again; what is right to do at one moment maybe wrong the next; I am intellectually exalted today and tomorrow correspondingly depressed and benighted.

The dualism of these opposites governs us in everything, and experience of it is prescribed for us until such time as, having learned and outgrown its lesson, we are ready for advancement to a condition where we outgrow the sense of this chequer-work existence and those opposites cease to be perceived as opposites, but are realized as a unity or synthesis.

To find that unity or synthesis is to know the peace which passes understanding – i.e. which surpasses our present experience, because in it the darkness and the light are both alike, and our present concepts of good and evil, joy and pain, are transcended and found sublimated in a condition combining both.

This lofty condition is represented by an indented border skirting the black and white chequer-work (as seen in Masonic temples), as the Divine Presence surrounds and embraces our temporal organisms in which those opposites are inherent.

Every initiate is intended to be the High Priest of his own personal temple and to make of it a place where he and Deity may meet.

By the mere fact of being in this dualistic world every living being, whether an initiate or not, walks upon the square pavement of mingled good and evil in every action of his life, and so the mosaic pavement is the symbol of an elementary philosophical truth common to us all.

The individual who aspires to be master of his fate and captain of his soul must walk upon these opposites in the sense of transcending and dominating them, of trampling upon his lower sensual nature and keeping it beneath his feet in subjection and control.

He must become able to rise above the motley of good and evil, to be superior and indifferent to the ups and downs of fortune, the attractions and fears governing ordinary men and swaying their thoughts and actions this way or that.

His object is the development of his innate spiritual potencies, and it is impossible that these should develop so long as he is over-ruled by his material tendencies and the fluctuating emotions of pleasure and pain that they give birth to.

It is by rising superior to these and attaining serenity and mental equilibrium under any circumstances in which for the moment he may be placed, that an initiate truly ‘walks upon’ the chequered ground-work of existence and the conflicting tendencies of his more material nature.

By Julian Websdale, | Reference: Wilmshurst, W. L. (1980). The Meaning of Masonry. New York: Gramercy Books.

Julian Websdale is an independent researcher in the fields of esoteric science and metaphysics, and a self-initiate of the Western Esoteric Tradition. His interest in these subjects began in 1988. You can visit his personal blog here.