The compasses are used for the admeasurement of the architect’s plans, and to enable him to give those just proportions which will ensure beauty as well as stability to his work.
In Speculative Freemasonry, this important symbol represent the true standard of rectitude which alone can bestow happiness and felicity. Hence are the compasses the most prominent emblem of virtue, the true and only measure of a Freemason’s life and conduct. As the Volume of the Sacred Law gives us light on our duties to God, and the square illustrates our duties to our neighborhood and Brother, so the compasses give that additional light which is to instruct, us in the duty we owe to ourselves— the great, imperative duty of circumscribing our passions, and keeping our desires within due bounds.
"It is ordained," says the philosopher Edmund Burke, "in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate passions cannot be free; their passions forge their fetters." Those Brethren who delight to trace our emblems to an astronomical origin, find in the compasses a symbol of the sun, the circular pivot representing the body of the luminary, and the diverging legs his rays.
In the earliest rituals of the eighteenth century, the compasses are described as a part of the furniture of the Lodge,'and are said to belong to the Master. Some change will be found in this respect in the ritual of the present day. The word is sometimes spelled and pronounced compass, which is more usually applied to the magnetic needle and circular dial or card of the mariner from which he directs his course over the seas, or the similar guide of the airman when seeking his destination, across unknown territory.