William Bowe’s “A Certain Point within a Circle”

This post will be a little different than most of the ones I’ve posted previously.  I’m going to take a look at a symbol that we should all be relatively familiar with, but I’m not going to explore its esoteric meaning.  Instead, I happened to come across a very interesting article, and I’d like to share an excerpt from it.

The original article, titled “A Certain Point within a Circle“, was written by W. Bro. William Bowe of Augusta, Georgia.  It originally appeared in the July 1918 edition of The Builder.  W. Bro. Bowe was the first Worshipful Master of Richmond Lodge No. 412 and also served as Grand High Priest and Right Eminent Grand Commander.

Where we find many different speculative interpretations behind the Point within a Circle, W. Bro. Bowe postulates that it could have been used as a tool by Operative Masons to create right angles.  It’s a very interesting concept that places it in a similar space as the 47th Problem of Euclid.

The article has been reproduced in other places online, but often it is lacking the drawings that W. Bro. Bowe created to help explain his rationale.  I have reconstructed his drawings in a cleaner manner so that his points can be more easily understood.

Below is the portion of the article I found most interesting:

In Europe during the Dark Ages, say from A. D. 700 to 1300, the art of Geometry was entirely lost; but the knowledge of how to make a perfect square within a circle was not lost.

This Truth is worthy of an essay as to whether or not the “Knowledge of the Square” was preserved by Freemasonry during those dark days when the intellect of men had become depressed almost to oblivion.

I say advisedly that the knowledge was not lost, because there is preserved to us a doggerel rhyme called the Stone Mason’s speech. The oldest copy is of date about A. D. 1500, but it is evidently the copy of an older original. With this long prelude I am now ready to endeavor to prove to you “that the point within a circle” was a significant symbol at a period at least previous to the year A. D. 1500.

“The Stone Mason’s Speech” is, literally translated, as follows:

What in stone-craft to see is
Which no error nor bypath is
But straight as a line; a line
Through drawn the Circle, overall
Thus findest thou three in four stand.
And thus through one in the center go
Also again out of the center in three
Through the four in the Circle quite free
The stone-craft and all the things
To investigate makes the learning easy
A point which in the Circle goes
Which in the Square and three angles stand
Hit ye the point then have ye done
And come out of Need, Fear and Danger
Herewith have ye the whole science
Understand ye it not: so is it in vain
All which ye learnt have;
Of that bewail yourselves soon, therewith depart.

Point within a Circle

Now this speech almost certainly refers to the “Point within a Circle,” because every direction given in it is applicable to that symbol, and the result together with every fact in the speech is in exact accord with the demonstration which I will now give.

First, I establish the point (Figure 1) and with it as a center I describe the circumference and we have the symbol of the “Point within a Circle.”

The speech directs: “A line through drawn the circle,” draw line A-C through the center. “Overall thus findest thou three in four stand.”

Point within a Circle2

That is to say you must draw lines on three out of four sides; each line the length of the diameter, or three lines equal to A-C on three sides (draw lines number one, two and three), “And thus through One in the center go.”

That is to say, from the center of line No. 1 draw a line (draw a line from the center of side No. 1 as A-B). “Also again out of the center which is in three,” that is to say from the center of side three draw a line (draw a line from the center of side three as C-B). “Through the Four in the circle quite free.”

The stonework-craft and all the things
To investigate makes the learning easy.

That is to say, any investigation into the matters pertaining to stone-craft are made easy by this “Knowledge of the Square.”

Now observe the result according to the speech, “A point which in the circle goes, which in the square and three angles stands, gives you the whole science and you cannot go wrong.” That is to say the point within the circle is within the square of the two parallel lines and also within the triangle formed by the three angles, and you have accomplished the whole science, and therefore cannot go wrong.

This is an evident fact because no matter in what direction you draw the lines from A and C, provided they are exactly joined at the circumference of the circle, they will form a right angle or a perfect square, (see lines A-E and C-E) and, therefore, you can form an infinite number of right angles within the circle, every one of which will be a perfect square, and thus is accomplished the “Knowledge of the Square.”

First a straight line,
Second a square,
Third a perfect knowledge of the square.

As the speech further sums up the result:

Hit ye the point then have ye done
And come out of Need, Fear and Danger.

Perpendicular, square and center.

A right angled triangle invested with sacredness by our ancient brethren as containing within its perfect angle the attributes of Deity formed not on the center, but by the aid of the “Point within a Circle.”

Despite the Point within a Circle being introduced during the Entered Apprentice Degree, Bowe goes on to speculate that “Knowledge of the Square” belongs to the Master of the Lodge.  He also makes the correlation between the station of the Worshipful Master and the Square as his proper symbol — something that should be familiar to us all.  What I find particularly interesting is that in a similar manner, the 47th Problem of Euclid often represents Past Masters.  I have plans to explore that concept in a future post, so I won’t press into it at this point in time.

Operative Masons having multiple means by which to create and check 90° angles is entirely plausible.  Whether or not W. Bro. Bowe is correct in his assessment of the symbol, he leaves up to the reader.  It’s certainly an intriguing idea, either way.


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