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Behind the Masonic Symbol: The Hourglass

By March 11, 2021April 4th, 2023No Comments


Throughout the rituals of Freemasonry, brethren encounter countless symbols designed to convey the fraternity’s moral lessons and philosophies. These emblems teach us how to become better men, acting as a compass to guide our actions as we strive for justice and compassion for those around us. While it is vital for all Masons to ruminate on these symbols as they go through the degrees, few prompts the same self-reflection as the Hourglass.

The Sands of Time

An hourglass is an early device used to track measures of time, such as an hour or minute. It is made of two stacked bulbs of glass joined by a passage at their apexes through which sand runs. It became popular in the 15th century for its dependability, finding regular use on ships, in kitchens, and in churches.

An etching of an hourglass depicted with two wings.
The Hourglass is often depicted with a pair of wings, symbolizing that time is fleeting.

While today the hourglass is not as popular for time telling as clocks, its literal depiction of the past, present, and future have helped it endure the centuries as a popular symbol. Often depicted with wings, it represents humanity’s fleeting nature, emphasizing that time will run out for each individual. Over time the hourglass has been etched on everything from coffins to the flags of pirate ships and has even been used in animations on popular TV shows.

In Masonic Lecture

Ohio Freemasons first encounter the Hourglass during the lecture of the third degree, where it is explained to be an emblem of human life. It represents the continuous passing of time and serves as a reminder that life is finite. Additionally, the two containers of the hourglass are an analogy on their own: that the need to flip the hourglass signifies the cycle between life and death. It also denotes the notion that we must be able to reverse our perceptions, attitudes, and actions at times for us to move forward.

The completion of the Master Mason degree is almost certainly not a Brother’s first experience with an hourglass, symbolically or otherwise. What makes the Hourglass unique in how it is employed in Freemasonry is the challenge it poses to brethren. As with all the symbols and lessons taught in our fraternity, the Hourglass is meant to encourage Ohio Freemasons to live a full life and make the most of our time. It is a reminder to work for a life of compassion, honesty, and integrity so that we may improve not only our own lives but those in our community as well.

If you’re interested in learning more about the meanings behind common symbols used in Ohio Freemasonry, please refer to our blogs on the Apron, Cornerstone, and Forget-Me-Nots.

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