The black and white checkered floor has existed in temples since the times of ancient Egypt. More than simply decorative, the mosaic pavement bears a profound esoteric meaning. Today it is one of Freemasonry’s most recognizable symbols and is the ritualistic floor of all Masonic lodges. The pavement is the area on which initiations occur and is “emblematic of human life, checkered with good and evil.”
“The mosaic pavement in an old symbol of the Order. It is met with in the earliest rituals of the last century. It is classed among the ornaments of the lodge along with the indented tessel and the blazing star. Its party-colored stones of black and white have been readily and appropriately interpreted as symbols of the evil and good of human life.” 1
According to occult researchers, the checkered mosaic pavement has historically represented the House of the Mysteries and its origins can be traced back to ancient Egypt and the Dionysiac rites.
“The checkerboard floor upon which the modern Freemasonic lodge stands is the old tracing board of the Dionysiac Architects, and while the modern organization is no longer limited to workmen’s guilds it still preserves in its symbols the metaphysical doctrines of the ancient society of which it is presumably the outgrowth.” 2
In the Entered Apprentice Degree, the mosaic pavement represents the ground floor of King Solomon’s Temple. In the account of King Solomon’s Temple in the Bible, the ground floor is said to be made of pine or fir, depending on the Bible translation (1 Ki 6:15).
While the pavement of most lodges consist of a black and white checkered pattern, the colors might vary. Lozenges might also be used instead of squares.
Mosaic pattern inside Notre Dame de Paris, a Cathedral built by the Knight Templars, the spiritual ancestors of the Freemasons
- “La Papesse” is card number two of the tarot, a number symbolic of duality. Notice the Ying Yang symbol on the Priestress’s book representing the same dualistic principles of the mosaic pavement.
The juxtaposition of opposing colors on the mosaic pavement is a visual representation an important principle of hermetism: duality.
“The pavement, alternately black and white, symbolizes, whether so intended or not, the Good and Evil Principles of the Egyptian and Persian creed. It is the warfare of Michael and Satan, of the Gods and Titans, of Balder and Lok; between light and shadow, which is darkness; Day and Night; Freedom and Despotism; Religious Liberty and the Arbitrary Dogmas of a Church that thinks for its votaries, and whose Pontiff claims to be infallible, and the decretals of its Councils to constitute a gospel.” 3
“The Floor, or groundwork of the Lodge, a chequer-work of black and white squares, 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 it is right to do at one moment may be wrong the next; I am intellectually exalted to-day and to-morrow 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. And this lofty condition is represented by the indented or tesselated border skirting the black and white chequer-work, even as the Divine Presence and Providence surrounds and embraces our temporal organisms in which those opposites are inherent.” 4
Furthermore, the checkered floor is representative of earth, the material world and contrasts the ceiling, which is made to represent the heavens and the spiritual realm.
“The Covering of the Lodge is shown in sharp contrast to its black and white flooring and is described as “a celestial canopy of divers colours, even the heavens.
If the flooring symbolizes man’s earthy sensuous nature, the ceiling typifies his ethereal nature, his “heavens” and the properties resident therein. The one is the reverse and the opposite pole of the other. His material body is visible and densely composed. His ethereal surround, or “aura”, is tenuous and invisible, (save to clairvoyant vision), and like the fragrance thrown off by a flower. Its existence will be doubted by those unprepared to accept what is not physically demonstrable, but the Masonic student, who will be called upon to accept many such truths provisionally until he knows them as certainties, should reflect (i) that he has entered the Craft with the professed object of receiving light upon the nature of his own being, (2) that the Order engages to assist him to that light in regard to matters of which he is admittedly ignorant, and that its teachings and symbols were devised by wise and competent instructors in such matters, and (3) that a humble, docile and receptive mental attitude towards those symbols and their meanings will better conduce. to his advancement than a critical or hostile one.” 5
The mosaic pavement is a esoterically-charged space on which stands the ceremonial altar, the center of most rituals. The ceremony for the Apprentice Degree symbolically takes place in that location. According to the Third Degree Ritual, the Square Pavement is for the High Priest to walk upon.
“Why is the chequer floor-work given such prominence in the Lodge-furniture? The answer is to be found in the statement in the Third Degree Ritual : “The square pavement is for the High Priest to walk upon”. Now it is not merely the Jewish High Priest of centuries ago that is here referred to, but the individual member of the Craft. For every Mason 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 a Mason or not, walks upon the square pavement of mingled good and evil in every action of his life, so that the floor-cloth is the symbol of an elementary philosophical truth common to us all. But, for us, the words “walk upon” imply much more than that. They mean that he 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 a Mason truly “walks upon” the chequered ground work of existence and the conflicting tendencies of his more material nature.” 6
Some claim that the mosaic pavement serves as a “magical circle” to be used in inter-dimensional travel and communication. The deeper meaning of the mosaic is therefore said to transcend the limits of the material realm.
A plate from “The Hidden Life of Freemasonry” by Charles W. Leadbeater depicting a candidate being introduced to nature-spirits, occurring on the checkered floor.
In Popular Culture
Whether for intentionally Masonic purposes or as an archetypal reflex, scenes ritualistic and metaphysical transformation are often depicted on a checkered floor.