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[ Bro. Albert G.
Mackey, the distinguished Masonic Scholar has written this Book on the Symbolism
of Freemasonry. The learned author requires no introduction. The book provides a
fund of Masonic Knowledge and helps us to understand the Symbolism behind
several aspects of Freemasonry. The learned author has explained the various
Legends and Myths and the Symbolism behind all of them as well as the Symbols in
Masonic teachings. The Esoteric teachings of Freemasonry can be understood only
through the Legends and Symbols adopted by the order. The learned author has
indicated the methodology for lifting the veil of ignorance and indifference, so
that the inner meaning and the Esoteric significance of our Legends and Symbols
can be properly comprehended and the Masonic Philosophy understood. The book
will be posted in parts for the convenient reading. Footnotes have been
incorporated in the main text itself within brackets and in a distinct font.
Chapters 1 to 10 have been posted in this article.]
Symbolism of Freemasonry
Illustrating And Explaining
Science and Philosophy, its Legends, Myths, and Symbols.
Albert G. Mackey. M.D.,
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year
ALBERT G. MACKEY,
In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of South Carolina.
Stereotyped at the Boston Stereotype Foundry,
No. 19 Spring Lase.
John C. Fremont
My Dear Sir,
any American might be proud of associating his name with that of one, who has
done so much to increase the renown of his country and to enlarge the sum of
human knowledge, this book is dedicated to you as a slight testimonial of regard
for your personal character and in grateful recollection of acts of friendship.
Your very truly,
Of the various modes
of communicating instruction to the uninformed, the Masonic student is
particularly interested in two, namely, the instruction by legends and that by
symbols. It is to these two, almost exclusively, that he is indebted for all
that he knows, and for all that he can know, of the philosophic system, which is
taught in the institution. All its mysteries and its dogmas, which constitute
its philosophy, are intrusted for communication to the neophyte, sometimes to
one, sometimes to the other of these two methods of instruction, and sometimes
to both of them combined. The Freemason has no way of reaching any of the
esoteric teachings of the Order except through the medium of a legend or a
A legend differs
from an historical narrative only in this, that it is without documentary
evidence of authenticity. It is the offspring solely of tradition.
Its details may be true in part or in whole. There may be no internal evidence
to the contrary, or there may be internal evidence that they are altogether
false. But neither the possibility of truth in the one case, nor the
certainty of falsehood in the other, can remove the traditional narrative from
the class of legends. It is a legend simply because it rests on no written
foundation. It is oral, and therefore legendary.
In grave problems
of history, such as the establishment of empires, the discovery and settlement of
countries, or the rise and fall of dynasties, the knowledge of the truth or
falsity of the legendary narrative will be of importance, because the value of
history is impaired by the imputation of doubt. But it is not so in
Freemasonry. Here there need be no absolute question of the truth or falsity of
the legend. The object of the Masonic legends is not to establish historical
facts, but to convey philosophical doctrines. They are a method by which
esoteric instruction is communicated, and the student accepts them with
reference to nothing else except their positive use and meaning as developing
Masonic dogmas. Take, for instance, the Hiramic legend of the third degree. Of
what importance is it to the disciple of Masonry whether it be true or false?
All that he wants to know is its internal signification; and when he learns that
it is intended to illustrate the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, he is
content with that interpretation, and he does not deem it necessary, except as a
matter of curious or antiquarian inquiry, to investigate its historical
accuracy, or to reconcile any of its apparent contradictions. So of the lost
keystone; so of the second temple; so of the hidden ark: these are to him
legendary narratives, which, like the casket, would be of no value were it not
for the precious jewel contained within. Each of these legends is the expression
of a philosophical idea.
But there is
another method of Masonic instruction, and that is by symbols. No science is
more ancient than that of symbolism. At one time, nearly all the learning of the
world was conveyed in symbols. And although modern philosophy now deals only in
abstract propositions, Freemasonry still cleaves to the ancient method
and has preserved it in its primitive importance as a means of communicating
According to the
derivation of the word from the Greek, "to symbolize" signifies
"to compare one thing with another." Hence a symbol is the
expression of an idea that has been derived from the comparison or contrast of
some object with a moral conception or attribute. Thus we say that the plumb is
a symbol of rectitude of conduct. The physical qualities of the plumb are here
compared or contrasted with the moral conception of virtue, or rectitude. Then
to the Speculative Mason it becomes, after he has been taught its symbolic
meaning, the visible expression of the idea of moral uprightness.
But although there
are these two modes of instruction in Freemasonry, by legends and by symbols,
there really is no radical difference between the two methods. The symbol is a
visible, and the legend an audible representation of some contrasted idea, of
some moral conception produced from a comparison. Both the legend and the
symbol relate to dogmas of a deep religious character. Both of them convey moral
sentiments in the same peculiar method and both of them are designed by this
method to illustrate the philosophy of Speculative Masonry.
the recondite meaning of these legends and symbols, and to elicit from them the
moral and philosophical lessons which they were intended to teach, is to
withdraw the veil with which ignorance and indifference seek to conceal the true
philosophy of Freemasonry.
To study the
symbolism of Masonry is the only way to investigate its philosophy. This is the
portal of its temple, through which alone we can gain access to the sanctum
where its mysteries are concealed.
Its philosophy is
engaged in the consideration of propositions relating to God and man, to the
present and the future life. Its science is the symbolism by which these
propositions are presented to the mind.
The work now offered to the public is an effort to
develop and explain this philosophy and science. It will show that there are in
Freemasonry the germs of profound speculation. If it does not interest the
learned, it may instruct the ignorant. If so, I shall not regret the labor and
research that have been bestowed upon its composition.
G. Mackey. M.D.,
S. C., Feb. 22, 1869
Chapter -I. -- Preliminary.--The Origin And Progress Of Freemasonry.
Chapter- II.-- The Noachidae.
III.- The Primitive
Freemasonry Of Antiquity.
Chapter- IV-. The Spurious
Freemasonry of Antiquity.
Chapter-- V.--The Ancient Mysteries.
Chapter-- VI.-The Dionysiac Artificers.
Chapter-VII.- The Union Of Speculative And Operative Masonry
Temple Of Solomon.
Chapter-VIII- The Travelling Freemasons of The Middle Ages.
Chapter-IX - Disseverance of the Operative Element.
Chapter-X -- The System of
Origin And Progress Of Freemasonry
Any inquiry into
the symbolism and philosophy of Freemasonry must necessarily be preceded by a
brief investigation of the origin and history of the institution. Ancient and
universal as it is, whence did it arise? What were the accidents connected with
its birth? From what kindred or similar association did it spring? Or was it
original and independent, in its inception, of any external influences and
unconnected with any other institution? These are questions, which an
intelligent investigator will be disposed to propound in the very commencement
of the inquiry and they are questions, which must be distinctly answered before
he can be expected to comprehend its true character as a symbolic institution.
He must know something of its antecedents before he can appreciate its
But he who expects
to arrive at a satisfactory solution of this inquiry must first, as a
preliminary absolutely necessary to success, release himself from the influence
of an error into which novices in Masonic philosophy are too apt to fall. He
must not confound the doctrine of Freemasonry with its outward and extrinsic
form. He must not suppose that certain usages and ceremonies, which exist at
this day, but which, even now, are subject to extensive variations in different
countries, constitute the sum and substance of Freemasonry. "Prudent
antiquity," says Lord Coke, "did for more solemnity and better memory
and observation of that which is to be done, express substances under
ceremonies." But it must be always remembered that the ceremony is
not the substance. It is but the outer garment, which covers and perhaps
adorns it, as clothing does the human figure. But divest man of that outward
apparel, and you still have the microcosm, the wondrous creation, with all his
nerves, and bones, and muscles, and, above all, with his brain, and thoughts,
and feelings. And so take away from Masonry these external ceremonies, and you
still have remaining its philosophy and science. These have, of
course, always continued the same, while the ceremonies have varied in different
ages, and still vary in different countries.
The definition of
Freemasonry that it is "a science of morality, veiled in allegory, and
illustrated by symbols," has been so often quoted, that, were it not
for its beauty, it would become wearisome. But this definition contains the
exact principle, that has just been
enunciated. Freemasonry is a science, a philosophy, a system of doctrines,
which is taught, in a manner peculiar to itself, by allegories and symbols.
This is its internal character. Its ceremonies are external additions, which
affect not its substance. Now, when we are about to institute an inquiry
into the origin of Freemasonry, it is of this peculiar system of philosophy,
that we are to inquire and not of the ceremonies, which have been foisted on it.
If we pursue any other course we shall assuredly fall into error.
Thus, if we seek the origin and first beginning of
the Masonic philosophy, we must go away back into the ages of remote
antiquity, when we shall find this beginning in the bosom of kindred
associations, where the same philosophy was maintained and taught. But
if we confound the ceremonies of Masonry with the philosophy of Masonry and seek
the origin of the institution, moulded into outward form as it is today, we
can scarcely be required to look farther back than the beginning of the
eighteenth century and indeed, not quite so far. For many important
modifications have been made in its rituals since that period. Having, then,
arrived at the conclusion that it is not the Masonic ritual, but the Masonic
philosophy, whose origin we are to investigate, the next question naturally
relates to the peculiar nature of that philosophy.
Now, then, I contend
that the philosophy of Freemasonry is engaged in the contemplation of the divine
and human character; of God as one eternal, self-existent being, in
contradiction to the mythology of the ancient peoples, which was burdened with a
multitude of gods and goddesses, of demigods and heroes, of Man as an
immortal being, preparing in the present life for an eternal future, in like
contradiction to the ancient philosophy, which circumscribed the existence of
man to the present life.
doctrines, then, of the unity of God and the immortality or the soul, constitute
the philosophy of Freemasonry. When we wish to define it succinctly, we say
that it is an ancient system of philosophy, which teaches these two dogmas. And
hence, if, amid the intellectual darkness and debasement of the old
polytheistic religions, we find interspersed here and there, in all ages,
certain institutions or associations which taught these truths and that, in a
particular way, allegorically and symbolically, then we have a right to say that
such institutions or associations were the predecessors of the Masonic
institution as it now exists.
preliminary remarks the reader will be enabled to enter upon the consideration
of that theory of the origin of Freemasonry, which I advance in the following
1. In the first
place, I contend that in the very earliest ages of the world there were
existent certain truths of vast importance to the welfare and happiness of
humanity, which had been communicated, - no matter how, but, most
probably, by direct inspiration from God to man.
2. These truths
principally consisted in the abstract propositions of the unity of God and the
immortality of the soul. Of the truth of these two propositions there cannot
be a reasonable doubt. The belief in these truths is a necessary consequence
of that religious sentiment, which has always formed an essential feature of
human nature. Man is, emphatically and in distinction from all other
creatures, a religious animal. Gross commences his interesting work on
"The Heathen Religion in its Popular and Symbolical Development"
by the statement that "one of the most remarkable phenomena of the human
race is the universal existence of religious ideas - a belief in something
supernatural and divine, and a worship corresponding to it." As nature
had implanted the religious sentiment, the same nature must have directed it in
a proper channel. The belief and the worship must at first have been as pure
as the fountain whence they flowed, although, in subsequent times and before the
advent of Christian light, they may both have been corrupted by the influence of
the priests and the poets over an ignorant and superstitious people. The
first and second propositions of my theory refer only to that primeval period,
which was antecedent to these corruptions, of which I shall hereafter speak.
3. These truths
of God and immortality were most probably handed down through the line of
patriarchs of the race of Seth, but were, at all events, known to Noah, and were
by him communicated to his immediate descendants.
4. In consequence of
this communication, the true worship of God continued, for some time after
the subsidence of the deluge, to be cultivated by the Noachidae, the Noachites,
or the descendants of Noah.
5. At a
subsequent period (no matter when, but the biblical record places it at the
attempted building of the tower of Babel), there was a secession of a large
number of the human race from the Noachites.
6. These seceders
rapidly lost sight of the divine truths, which had been communicated to them
from their common ancestor and fell into the most grievous theological
errors, corrupting the purity of the worship and the orthodoxy of the religious
faith, which they had primarily received.
These truths were preserved in their integrity by but a very few in
the patriarchal line, while still fewer were enabled to retain only dim and
glimmering portions of the true light.
The first class was confined to the direct descendants of Noah, and
the second was to be found among the priests and philosophers and perhaps, still
later, among the poets of the heathen nations, and among those whom they
initiated into the secrets of these truths. Of the prevalence of these
religious truths among the patriarchal descendants of Noah, we have ample
evidence in the sacred records. As to their existence among a body of learned
heathens, we have the testimony of many intelligent writers who have devoted
their energies to this subject. Thus the learned Grote, in his "History
of Greece," says, "The allegorical interpretation of the myths has
been, by several learned investigators, especially by Creuzer, connected with
the hypothesis of an ancient and highly instructed body of priests, having their
origin either in Egypt or in the East, and communicating to the rude and
barbarous Greeks religious, physical, and historical knowledge, under the veil
of symbols." What is here said only of the Greeks is equally
applicable to every other intellectual nation of antiquity.
The system or doctrine of the former class has been called by Masonic
writers the "Pure or Primitive Freemasonry" of antiquity, and that of
the latter class the "Spurious Freemasonry" of the same period. These
terms were first used, if I mistake not, by Dr. Oliver, and are
intended to refer - the word pure to the doctrines taught by the
descendants of Noah in the Jewish line, and the word spurious to his descendants
in the heathen or Gentile line.
10. The masses of
the people, among the Gentiles especially, were totally unacquainted with this
divine truth, which was the foundation stone of both species of Freemasonry, the
pure and the spurious and were deeply immersed in the errors and falsities of
heathen belief and worship.
11. These errors
of the heathen religions were not the voluntary inventions of the peoples who
cultivated them, but were gradual and almost unavoidable corruptions of the
truths which had been at first taught by Noah; and, indeed, so palpable are
these corruptions, that they can be readily detected and traced to the original
form from which, however much they might vary among different peoples, they had,
at one time or another, deviated. Thus in the life and achievements of
Bacchus or Dionysus, we find the travestied counterpart of the career of Moses,
and in the name of Vulcan, the blacksmith God, we evidently see an etymological
corruption of the appellation of Tubal Cain, the first artificer in metals. For
Vul can is, but a modified form of Baal-Cain, the God Cain.
12. But those
among the masses and there were some, who were made acquainted with the truth,
received their knowledge by means of an initiation into certain sacred
Mysteries, in the bosom of which it was concealed from the public gaze.
These Mysteries existed in every country of heathendom, in each under
a different name and to some extent under a different form, but always and
everywhere with the same design of teaching, by allegorical and symbolic
teachings, the great Masonic doctrines of the unity of God and the immortality
of the soul. This is an important proposition, and the fact which it
enunciates must never be lost sight of in any inquiry into the origin of
Freemasonry; for the pagan Mysteries were to the spurious Freemasonry of
antiquity precisely what the Masters' lodges are to the Freemasonry of the
present day. It is needless to offer any proof of their existence, since
this is admitted and continually referred to by all historians, ancient and
modern; and to discuss minutely their character and organization would occupy a
distinct treatise. The Baron de Sainte Croix has written two large volumes on
the subject, and yet left it unexhausted.
14. These two divisions
of the Masonic Institution which were defined in the 9th proposition,
namely, the pure or primitive Freemasonry among the Jewish descendants of the
patriarchs, who are called, by way of distinction, the Noachites, or descendants
of Noah, because they had not forgotten nor abandoned the teachings of their
great ancestor and the spurious Freemasonry practised among the pagan nations,
flowed down the stream of time in parallel currents, often near together, but
15. But these two currents
were not always to be kept apart, for, springing, in the long anterior ages,
from one common fountain, - that ancient priesthood of whom I have already
spoken in the 8th proposition, - and then dividing into the pure and spurious
Freemasonry of antiquity and remaining separated for centuries upon centuries,
they at length met at the building of the great temple of Jerusalem and were
united, in the instance of the Israelites under King Solomon, and the Tyrians
under Hiram, King of Tyre, and Hiram Abif. The spurious Freemasonry, it is
true, did not then and there cease to exist. On the contrary, it lasted for
centuries subsequent to this period; for it was not until long after, and in the
reign of the Emperor Theodosius, that the pagan Mysteries were finally and
totally abolished. But by the union of the Jewish or pure Freemasons and the
Tyrian or spurious Freemasons at Jerusalem, there was a mutual infusion of their
respective doctrines and ceremonies, which eventually terminated in the
abolition of the two distinctive systems and the establishment of a new one,
that may be considered as the immediate prototype of the present institution.
Hence many Masonic students, going no farther back in their investigations than
the facts announced in this 15th proposition, are content to find the origin of
Freemasonry at the temple of Solomon. But if my theory be correct, the truth
is, that it there received, not its birth, but only a new modification of its
character. The legend of the third degree - the golden legend, the legenda
aurea, of Masonry was there adopted by pure Freemasonry, which before had
no such legend, from spurious Freemasonry. But the legend had existed under
other names and forms, in all the Mysteries, for ages before. The doctrine of
immortality, which had hitherto been taught by the Noachites simply as an
abstract proposition, was thenceforth to be inculcated by a symbolic lesson -
the symbol of Hiram the Builder was to become forever after the distinctive
feature of Freemasonry.
16. But another
important modification was effected in the Masonic system at the building of the
temple. Previous to the union which then took place, the pure Freemasonry of
the Noachites had always been speculative, but resembled the present
organization in no other way than in the cultivation of the same abstract
principles of divine truth.
The Tyrians, on the contrary, were architects by profession and as
their leaders were disciples of the school of the spurious Freemasonry, they,
for the first time, at the temple of Solomon, when they united with their Jewish
contemporaries, infused into the speculative science, which was practised by the
latter, the elements of an operative art.
Therefore the system continued thenceforward, for ages, to present the
commingled elements of operative and speculative Masonry. We see this in the Collegia
Fabrorum, or Colleges of Artificers, first established at Rome by Numa and
which were certainly of a Masonic form in their organization in the Jewish sect
of the Essenes, who wrought as well as prayed and who are claimed to have been
the descendants of the temple builders and also, and still more prominently, in
the Travelling Freemasons of the middle ages, who identify themselves by their
very name with their modern successors and whose societies were composed of
learned men who thought and wrote and of workmen who labored and built. And so
for a long time Freemasonry continued to be both operative and speculative.
19. But another
change was to be effected in the institution to make it precisely what it now
is, and, therefore, at a very recent period (comparatively speaking), the
operative feature was abandoned, and Freemasonry became wholly speculative. The
exact time of this chance is not left to conjecture. It took place in the reign
of Queen Anne, of England, in the beginning of the eighteenth century. Preston
gives us the very words of the decree which established this change, for he says
that at that time it was agreed to "that the privileges of Masonry should
no longer be restricted to operative Masons, but extend to men of various
professions, provided they were regularly approved and initiated into the
propositions here announced contain a brief but succinct view of the progress
of Freemasonry from its origin in the early ages of the world, simply as a
system of religious philosophy, through all the modifications to which it was
submitted in the Jewish and Gentile races, until at length it was developed in
its present perfected form. During all this time it preserved
unchangeably certain features that may hence be considered as its specific
characteristics, by which it has always been distinguished from every other
contemporaneous association, however such association may have simulated it in
outward form. These characteristics are, first, the doctrines, which it has
constantly taught, namely, that of the unity of God and that of the immortality
of the soul and secondly, the manner in which these doctrines have been taught,
namely, by symbols and allegories.
characteristics as the exponents of what Freemasonry is, we cannot help arriving
at the conclusion, that the speculative Masonry of the present day exhibits
abundant evidence of the identity of its origin with the spurious Freemasonry of
the ante-Solomonic period, both systems coming from the same pure source, but
the one always preserving, and the other continually corrupting, the purity of
the common fountain.
This is also the necessary conclusion as a corollary from the propositions
advanced in this essay.
There is also
abundant evidence in the history, of which these propositions are but a meagre
outline, that a manifest influence was exerted on the pure or primitive
Freemasonry of the Noachites by the Tyrian branch of the spurious system, in the
symbols, myths, and legends which the former received from the latter, but which
it so modified and interpreted as to make them consistent with its own religious
system. One thing, at least, is incapable of refutation and that is, that we
are indebted to the Tyrian Masons for the introduction of the symbol of Hiram
Abif. The idea of the symbol, although modified by the Jewish Masons, is not
Jewish in its inception. It was evidently borrowed from the pagan mysteries,
where Bacchus, Adonis, Proserpine and a host of other apotheosized beings play
the same role that Hiram does in the Masonic mysteries.
And lastly, we
find in the technical terms of Masonry, in its working tools, in the names of
its grades, and in a large majority of its symbols, ample testimony of the
strong infusion into its religious philosophy of the elements of an operative
art. And history again explains this fact by referring to the connection
of the institution with the Dionysiac Fraternity of Artificers, who were engaged
in building the temple of Solomon, with the Work men's Colleges of Numa and with
the Travelling Freemasons of the middle ages, who constructed all the great
buildings of that period.
propositions, which have been submitted in the present essay, constitute a brief
summary or outline of a theory of the true origin of Freemasonry, which long and
patient investigation has led me to adopt.
To attempt to prove the truth of each of these propositions in its order by
logical demonstration, or by historical evidence, would involve the writing of
an elaborate treatise. They are now offered simply as suggestions on which the
Masonic student may ponder. They are but intended as guide posts, which may
direct him in his journey should he undertake the pleasant although difficult
task of instituting an inquiry into the origin and progress of Freemasonry from
its birth to its present state of full-grown manhood.
But even in this
abridged form they are absolutely necessary as preliminary to any true
understanding of the symbolism of Freemasonry.
Chapter- II.- The
I proceed then, to
inquire into the historical origin of Freemasonry,
as a necessary introduction to any inquiry into the character of its symbolism.
To do this, with any expectation of rendering justice to the subject, it is
evident that I shall have to take my point of departure at a very remote era. I
shall, however, review the early and antecedent history of the institution with
as much brevity as a distinct understanding of the subject will admit.
Passing over all that is within the antediluvian
history of the world, as something that exerted, so far as our subject is
concerned, no influence on the new world which sprang forth from the ruins of
the old, we find, soon after the cataclysm, the immediate descendants of Noah
in the possession of at least two religious truths, which they received from
their common father, and which he must have derived from the line of patriarchs
who preceded him. These truths were the doctrine of the existence of a Supreme
Intelligence, the Creator, Preserver, and Ruler of the Universe, and, as a
necessary corollary, the belief in
the immortality of the soul, which, as an emanation from that primal cause, was
to be distinguished, by a future and eternal life, from the vile and perishable
dust which forms its earthly tabernacle.
["The doctrine of the immortality of the soul,
if it is a real advantage, follows unavoidably firm the idea of God. The best
Being, he must will the best of good things; the wisest, he must devise
plans for that effect; the most powverful, he must bring it about. None
can deny this." - THEO. PARKER, Discourse of Matters pertaining to
Religion, b. ii. ch. viii. p. 205]
The assertion that these doctrines were known to and
recognized by Noah will not appear as an assumption to the believer in divine
revelation. But any philosophic mind must, I conceive, come to the same
conclusion; independently of any other authority than that of reason.
The religious sentiment, so far, at least, as it
relates to the belief in the existence of God, appears to be in some sense
innate, or instinctive, and consequently universal in the human mind.
institution of religion, like society, friendship, and marriage, comes out of a
principle, deep and permanent in the heart: as humble, and transient, and
partial institutions come out of humble, transient, and partial wants, and are
to be traced to the senses and the phenomena of life, so this sublime,
permanent, and useful institution came out from sublime, permanent, and
universal wants, and must be referred to the soul, and the unchanging realities
of life." - PARKER, Discourse of Religion, b. i. ch. i. p. 14]
is no record of any nation, however intellectually and morally debased, that has
not given some evidence of a tendency to such belief. The sentiment may be
perverted, the idea may be grossly corrupted, but it is nevertheless there and
shows the source whence it sprang.
["The sages of all nations, ages, and religions
had some ideas of these sublime doctrines, though more or less degraded,
adul-terated and obscured; and these scattered hints and vestiges of the most
sacred and exalted truths were originally rays and emanations of ancient and
primitive traditions, handed down from generation to generation, since the
beginning of the world, or at least since the fall of man, to all mankind."
- CHEV. RAMSAY, Philos. Princ. of Nat. and Rev. Relig.,. vol. ii. p. 8]
Even in the most debased forms of fetishism, where
the negro kneels in reverential awe before the shrine of some uncouth and misshapen
idol, which his own hands, perhaps, have made, the act of adoration,
degrading as the object may be, is nevertheless an acknowledgment of the longing
need of the worshipper to throw himself upon the support of some unknown power
higher than his own sphere. And this unknown power, be it what it may, is to him
a God, but just as universal has been the belief in the immortality of the soul.
this form, not only the common objects above enumerated, but gems, metals,
stones that fell from heaven, images, carved bits of wood, stuffed skins of
beasts, like the medicine-bags of the North American Indians, are reckoned as
divinities, and so, become objects of adoration. But in this case, the visible
object is idealized; not worshipped as the brute thing really is, but as, the
type and symbol of God." - PARKER, Disc. of Relig., b. i. ch. v. p.
arises from the same longing in man for the infinite and although, like the
former doctrine, it has been perverted and corrupted, there exists among all
nations a tendency to its acknowledgment. Every people, from the remotest times, have wandered
involuntarily into the ideal of another world, and sought to find a place for
their departed spirits. The deification of the dead, man worship, or hero
worship, the next development of the religious idea after fetishism, was simply
an acknowledgment of the belief in a future life; for the dead could not have
been deified, unless after death they had continued to live. The
adoration of a putrid carcass would have been a form of fetishism lower and more
degrading than any yet been discovered. But man worship came after fetishism. It
was a higher development of the religious sentiment, and included a possible
hope for, if not a positive belief in, a future life. Reason,
then, as well as revelation, leads us irresistibly to the conclusion that these
two doctrines prevailed among the descendants of Noah, immediately after the
deluge. They were believed, too, in all their purity and integrity, because they
were derived from the highest and purest source.
These are the
doctrines, which still constitute the creed of Freemasonry; and hence one of the
names bestowed upon the Freemasons from the earliest times was that of the
"Noachidae," or "Noachites," that is to say, the descendants
of Noah, and the transmitters of his religious dogmas.
Chapter-- III.- The
Primitive Freemasonry Of Antiquity.
The next important historical epoch, which demands
our attention is that connected with what, in sacred history, is known as the
dispersion at Babel. The brightness of truth, as it had been communicated by
Noah, became covered, as it were, with a cloud. The dogmas of the unity of God
and the immortality of the soul were lost sight of, and the first deviation from
the true worship occurred in the establishment of Sabianism, or the worship of
the sun, moon, and stars, among some peoples, and the deification of men among
others. Of these two deviations, Sabianism, or sun worship, was both the
earlier and the more generally diffused.
[ A recent writer thus eloquently refers to the
universality, in ancient times, of sun worship: "Sabaism, the worship of
light, prevailed amongst all the leading nations of the early world. By the
rivers of India, on the mountains of Persia, in the plains of Assyria, early
mankind thus adored, the higher spirits in each country rising in spiritual
thought from the solar orb up to Him whose vicegerent it seems - to the Sun of
all being, whose divine light irradiates and purifies the world of soul, as the
solar radiance does the world of sense. Egypt, too, though its faith be but
dimly known to us, joined in this worship; Syria raised her grand temples to the
sun; the joyous Greeks sported with the thought while feeling it, almost hiding
it under the mythic individuality which their lively fancy superimposed upon it.
Even prosaic China makes offerings to the yellow orb of day; the wandering Celts
and Teutons held feasts to it, amidst the primeval forests of Northern Europe;
and, with a savagery characteristic of the American aborigines, the sun temples
of Mexico streamed with human blood in honor of the beneficent orb." - The Castes
and Creeds of India, Blackw. Mag., vol. lxxxi. p. 317. - "There is no
people whose religion is known to us," says the Abbé Banier, "neither
in our own continent nor in that of America, that has not paid the sun a
religious worship, if we except some inhabitants of the torrid zone, who are
continually cursing the sun for scorching them with his beams." - Mythology,
lib. iii. ch. iii.- Macrobius, in his Saturnalia, undertakes to prove
that all the gods of Paganism may be reduced to the sun.]
seems," says the learned Owen, "to have had its rise from some broken
traditions conveyed by the patriarchs touching the dominion of the sun by day
and of the moon by night." The mode in which this old system has been
modified and spiritually symbolized by Freemasonry will be the subject of future
while it was the most ancient of the religious corruptions, was, I have said,
also the most generally diffused; and hence, even among nations which afterwards
adopted the polytheistic creed of deified men and factitious gods, this ancient
sun worship is seen to be continually exerting its influences. Thus, among the
Greeks, the most refined people that cultivated hero worship, Hercules was the
sun, and the mythological fable of his destroying with his arrows the many
headed hydra of the Lernaean marshes was but an allegory to denote the
dissipation of paludal malaria by the purifying rays of the orb of day. Among
the Egyptians, too, the chief deity, Osiris, was but another name for the sun,
while his arch enemy and destroyer, Typhon, was the typification of night, or
darkness. And lastly, among the Hindus, the three manifestations of their
supreme deity, Brahma, Siva, and Vishnu, were symbols of the rising, meridian,
and setting sun.
This early and very
general prevalence of the sentiment of sun worship is worthy of especial
attention on account of the influence that it exercised over the spurious
Freemasonry of antiquity, of which I am soon to speak and which is still felt,
although modified and Christianized in our modern system. Many, indeed nearly
all, of the Masonic symbols of the present day can only be thoroughly
comprehended and properly appreciated by this reference to sun worship.
truth, then, of the existence of one Supreme God, the Grand Architect of the
Universe, symbolized in Freemasonry as the TRUE WORD, was lost to the Sabians
and to the polytheists who arose after the dispersion at Babel, and with it also
disappeared the doctrine of a future life and hence, in one portion of the
Masonic ritual, in allusion to this historic fact, we speak of "the lofty
tower of Babel, where language was confounded and Masonry lost."
There were, however,
some of the builders on the plain of Shinar who preserved these great religious
and Masonic doctrines of the unity of God and the immortality of the soul in
their pristine purity. These were the patriarchs, in whose venerable line they
continued to be taught. Hence, years after the dispersion of the nations at
Babel, the world presented two great religious sects, passing onward down the
stream of time, side by side, yet as diverse from each other as light from
darkness, and truth from falsehood.
One of these lines
of religious thought and sentiment was the idolatrous and pagan world. With it
all Masonic doctrine, at least in its purity, was extinct, although there
mingled with it and at times to some extent influenced it, an offshoot from the
other line, to which attention will be soon directed.
The second of these
lines consisted, as has already been said, of the patriarchs and priests, who
preserved in all their purity the two great Masonic doctrines of the unity of
God and the immortality of the soul.
This line embraced,
then, what, in the language of recent Masonic writers, has been designated as
the Primitive Freemasonry of Antiquity.
Now, it is by no
means intended to advance any such gratuitous and untenable theory as that
proposed by some imaginative writers, that the Freemasonry of the patriarchs was
in its organization, its ritual, or its symbolism, like the system which now
exists. We know not, indeed, that it had a ritual, or even a symbolism.
I am inclined to think that it was made up of abstract propositions, derived
from antediluvian traditions. Dr. Oliver thinks it probable that there were a
few symbols among these Primitive and Pure Freemasous, and he enumerates among
them the serpent,
the triangle, and the point within a circle, but I can find no authority for the
supposition, nor do I think it fair to claim for the order more than it is
fairly entitled to, nor more than it can be fairly proved to possess. When Anderson calls
Moses a Grand Master, Joshua his Deputy, and Aholiab and Bezaleel
Grand Wardens, the expression is to be looked upon simply as a façon
de parler, a mode of speech entirely figurative in its character, and by no
means intended to convey the idea which is entertained in respect to officers of
that character in the present system. It would, undoubtedly, however, have been
better that such language should not have been used.
All that can be
claimed for the system of Primitive Freemasonry, as practised by the
patriarchs, is, that it embraced and taught the two great dogmas of Freemasonry,
namely, the unity of God, and the immortality of the soul. It may be, and
indeed it is highly probable, that there was a secret doctrine, and that this
doctrine was not indiscriminately communicated. We know that Moses, who was
necessarily the recipient of the knowledge of his predecessors, did not publicly
teach the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. But there was among the
Jews an oral or secret law, which was never committed to writing until after the
captivity and this law, I suppose, may have contained the recognition of those
dogmas of the Primitive Freemasonry.
this system of Primitive Freemasonry, without ritual or symbolism, that has
come down to us, at least, consisting solely of traditional legends, teaching
only the two great truths already alluded to and being wholly speculative in
its character, without the slightest infusion of an operative element, was
regularly transmitted through the Jewish line of patriarchs, priests, and kings,
without alteration, increase, or diminution, to the time of Solomon, and the
building of the temple at Jerusalem.
Leaving it, then,
to pursue this even course of descent, let us refer once more to that other line
of religious history, the one passing through the idolatrous and polytheistic
nations of antiquity, and trace from it the regular rise and progress of another
division of the Masonic institution, which, by way of distinction, has been
called the Spurious Freemasonry of Antiquity.
- The Spurious Freemasonry of Antiquity.
In the vast but
barren desert of polytheism, dark and dreary as were its gloomy domains, there
were still, however, to be found some few oases of truth. The philosophers and
sages of antiquity had, in the course of their learned researches, aided by the
light of nature, discovered something of those inestimable truths in relation to
God and a future state, which their patriarchal contemporaries had received as a
revelation made to their common ancestry before the flood and which had been
retained and promulgated after that event by Noah.
They were, with
these dim but still purifying perceptions, unwilling to degrade the majesty of
the First Great Cause by sharing his attributes with a Zeus and a Hera in
Greece, a Jupiter and a Juno in Rome, an Osiris and an Isis in Egypt and they
did not believe that the thinking, feeling, reasoning soul, the guest and
companion of the body, would, at the hour of that body's dissolution, be
consigned, with it, to total annihilation.
Hence, in the earliest ages after the era of the
dispersion, there were some among the heathen who believed as in the unity of
God and the immortality of the soul. But these doctrines they durst not publicly
teach. The minds of the people, growling in superstition and devoted, as St.
Paul testifies of the Athenians, to the worship of unknown gods, were not
prepared for the philosophic teachings of a pure theology. It was, indeed, an
axiom unhesitatingly enunciated and frequently repeated by their writers, that "there
are many truths with which it is useless for the people to be made acquainted
and many fables, which it is not expedient that they should know to be false”.
de religionibus loquens, evidenter dicit, mnulta esse vera, quae vulgo scire non
sit utile; multaque, quae tametsi falsa sint, aliter existimare populum expediat."
- St. AUGUSTINE, De Civit Dei. - We must regret, with the learned
Valloisin, that the sixteen books of Varro, on the religious antiquities of the
ancients, have been lost; and the regret is enhanced by the reflection that they
existed until the beginning of the fourteenth century and disappeared only when
their preservation for less than two centurion more would, by the discovery of
printing, have secured their perpetuity.
Such is the language of Varro, as preserved by St.
Augustine; and Strabo, another of their writers, exclaims, "It is not
possible for a philosopher to conduct a multitude of women and ignorant people
by a method of reasoning and thus to invite them to piety, holiness, and faith;
but the philosopher must also make use of superstition, and not omit the
invention of fables and the performance of wonders."
[Strabo, Geog., lib. i.]
While, therefore, in
those early ages of the world, we find the masses growling in the intellectual
debasement of a polytheistic and idolatrous religion, with no support for the
present, no hope for the future, living without the knowledge of a supreme and
superintending Providence, and dying without the expectation of a blissful
immortality, we shall at the same
time find ample testimony that these consoling doctrines were secretly believed
by the philosophers and their disciples.
But though believed, they were not publicly taught.
They were heresies, which it would have been impolitic and dangerous to have
broached to the public ear. They were truths which might have led to a contempt
of the established system and to the overthrow of the popular superstition.
Socrates, the Athenian sage, is an illustrious instance of the punishment that
was meted out to the bold innovator, who attempted to insult the gods and to
poison the minds of youth with the heresies of a philosophic religion. "They
permitted, therefore," says a learned writer on this subject, "the
multitude to remain plunged as they were in the depth of a gross and complicated
idolatry; but for those philosophic few who could bear the light of truth
without being confounded by the blaze, they removed the mysterious veil and
displayed to them the Deity in the radiant glory of his unity. From the vulgar
eye, however, these doctrines were kept inviolably sacred, and wrapped in the
veil of impenetrable mystery."
[Mauurice, Indian Antiquities, vol. ii. p. 297.]
The consequence of all this was, that no one was
permitted to be invested with the knowledge of these sublime truths, until by a
course of severe and arduous trials, by a long and painful initiation and by a
formal series of gradual preparations, he had proved himself worthy and capable
of receiving the full light of wisdom. For this purpose, therefore, those
peculiar religious institutions were organized, which the ancients designated as
the Mysteries and which, from the resemblance of their organization,
their objects, and their
doctrines, have by Masonic writers been called the "Spurious
Freemasonry of Antiquity."
Warburton, in giving a definition of what these
Mysteries were, says, "Each of the pagan Gods had (besides the public
and open) a secret worship paid unto him, to which none were admitted but those
who had been selected by preparatory ceremonies, called initiation. This secret
worship was termed the Mysteries."
Leg., vol. i. b. ii. § iv. p. 193, 10th Lond. Edition].
shall now endeavor briefly to trace the connection between these Mysteries and
the institution of Freemasonry and to do so, it will be necessary to enter upon
some details of the constitution of those mystic assemblies.
Almost every country of the ancient world had its
peculiar Mysteries, dedicated to the occult worship of some especial and
favorite god and to the inculcation of a secret doctrine, very different from
that which was taught in the public ceremonial of devotion.
Thus in Persia the Mysteries were dedicated to Mithras, or the
Sun, in Egypt, to Isis and Osiris, in Greece, to Demeter, in
Samothracia, to the gods Cabiri, the Mighty Ones, in Syria, to Dionysus, while
in the more northern nations of Europe, such as Gaul and Britain, the
initiations were dedicated to their peculiar deities and were celebrated under
the general name of the Druidical rites. But no matter where or how
instituted, whether ostensibly in honor of the effeminate Adonis, the favorite
of Ventis, or of the implacable Odin, the Scandinavian god of war and carnage;
whether dedicated to Demeter, the type of the earth, or to Mithras, the symbol
of all that fructifies that earth, the great object and design of the secret
instruction were identical in all places and the Mysteries constituted a school
of religion in which the errors and absurdities of polytheism were revealed to
the initiated. The candidate was taught that the multitudinous deities of
the popular theology were but hidden symbols of the various attributes of the
supreme god, a spirit invisible and indivisible and that the soul, as an
emanation from his essence, could "never see corruption," but must,
after the death of the body, be raised to an eternal life.
hidden doctrines of the unity of the Deity and the immortality of the soul were
taught originally in all the Mysteries, even those of Cupid and Bacchus. -
WARBURTON., apud Spence's Anecdotes, p. 309.]
That this was the doctrine and the object of the
Mysteries is evident from the concurrent testimony both of those ancient writers
who flourished contemporaneously with the practice of them, and of those modern
scholars who have devoted themselves to their investigation. Thus Isocrates,
speaking of them in his Panegyric, says, "Those who have been initiated
in the Mysteries of Ceres entertain better hopes both as to the end of life and
the whole of futurity." [ Isoc. Paneg., p. 59]
that everything in these Mysteries was instituted by the ancients for the
instruction and amendment of life. [Apud Arrian. Dissert., lib. iii. c. xxi.]
And Plato, says that
the design of initiation was to restore the soul to that state of perfection
from which it had originally fallen. [Phaedo.]
Thomas Taylor, the celebrated Platonist, who
possessed an unusual acquaintance with the character of these ancient rites,
asserts that they "obscurely intimated, by mystic and splendid visions,
the felicity of the soul, both here and hereafter, when purified from the
defilements of a material nature and constantly elevated to the realities of
[ Dissert. on the Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries, in
the Pamphleteer, vol. viii. p. 53.]
distinguished German writer, who has examined the subject of the ancient
Mysteries with great judgment and elaboration, gives a theory on their nature
and design, which is well worth consideration. This theory is, that when there
had been placed under the eyes of the initiated symbolical representations of
the creation of the universe and the origin of things, the migrations and
purifications of the soul, the beginning and progress of civilization and
agriculture, there was drawn from these symbols and these scenes in the
Mysteries an instruction destined only for the more perfect, or the adepts, to
whom were communicated the doctrines of the existence of a single and eternal
God, and the destination of the universe and of man.
[Symbol. and Mythol. der Alt. Völk]
however, refers rather to the general object of the instructions, than to the
character of the rites and ceremonies by which they were impressed upon the
mind; for in the Mysteries, as in Freemasonry, the Hierophant, whom we would now
call the Master of the Lodge, often, as Lobeck observes, delivered a mystical
lecture, or discourse, on some moral subject.
notwithstanding the predominance in his mind of a theory which referred every
rite and symbol of the ancient world to the traditions of Noah, the ark, and the
deluge, has given a generally correct view of the systems of ancient religion,
describes the initiation into the Mysteries as a scenic representation of the
mythic descent into Hades, or the grave and the return from thence to the light
In a few words, then, the object of instruction in
all these Mysteries was the unity of God, and the intention of the ceremonies of
initiation into them was, by a scenic representation of death, and subsequent
restoration to life, to impress the great truths of the resurrection of the dead
and the immortality of the soul.
[ In these Mysteries, after the people had for a long
time bewailed the loss of a particular person, he was at last supposed to be
restored to life.- BRYANT, Anal. of Anc. Mythology, vol. iii. p. 176.]
I need scarcely
here advert to the great similarity in design and conformation, which existed
between these ancient rites and the third or Master's degree of Masonry. Like it
they were all funereal in their character. They began in sorrow and lamentation.
They ended in joy. There was an Apocalypse, or burial; a pastos, or grave;
or discovery of what had been lost; and a legend, or mythical relation, all of which were entirely and profoundly symbolical in their character.
looking to this strange identity of design and form, between the initiations of
the ancients and those of the modern Masons, writers have been disposed to
designate these mysteries as the Spurious Freemasonry Of Antiquity.
- V - The Ancient Mysteries.
I now propose, for
the purpose of illustrating these views, and of familiarizing the reader with
the coincidences between Freemasonry and the ancient Mysteries, so that he may
be better enabled to appreciate the mutual influences of each on the other as
they are hereafter to be developed, to present a more detailed relation of one
or more of these ancient systems of initiation.
As the first
illustration, let us select the Mysteries of Osiris, as they were practised in
Egypt, the birthplace of all that is wonderful in the arts or sciences, or
mysterious in the religion, of the ancient world.
It was on the Lake
of Sais that the solemn ceremonies of the Osirian initiation were performed.
"On this lake," says Herodotus, "it is that the Egyptians
represent by night his sufferings whose name I refrain from mentioning
and this representation they call their Mysteries." [Herod.
Hist., lib. iii. c. clxxi]
Osiris, the husband of Isis, was an ancient king of
the Egyptians. Having been slain by Typhon, his body was cut into pieces
by his murderer, and the mangled remains cast upon the waters of the
Nile, to be dispersed to the four winds of heaven.
[The legend says it was cut into fourteen
pieces. Compare this with the fourteen days of burial in the masonic
legend of the third degree. Why the particular number in each? It has been
thought by some, that in the latter legend there was a reference to the half of
the moon's age, or its dark period, symbolic of the darkness of death, followed
by the fourteen days of bright moon, or restoration to life.]
His wife, Isis,
mourning for the death and the mutilation of her husband, for many days searched
diligently with her companions for the portions of the body, and having at
length found them, united them together, and bestowed upon them decent
interment, while Osiris, thus restored, became the chief deity of his subjects and his worship was united with that of Isis, as the fecundating and
fertilizing powers of nature. The candidate in these initiations was made to
pass through a mimic repetition of the conflict and destruction of Osiris, and
his eventual recovery and the explanations made to him, after he had received
the full share of light to which the painful and solemn ceremonies through which
he had passed had entitled him, constituted the secret doctrine of which I have
already spoken, as the object of all the Mysteries. Osiris, a real and
personal god to the people, to be worshipped with fear and with trembling, and
to be propitiated with sacrifices and burnt offerings, became to the initiate,
but a symbol of the, "Great
first cause, least understood," while
his death and the wailing of Isis, with the recovery of the body, his
translation to the rank of a celestial being, and the consequent rejoicing of
his spouse, were but a tropical mode of teaching that after death comes life
eternal and that though the body be destroyed, the soul shall still live.
doubt," says the Baron Sainte Croix, "that such ceremonies as those
practised in the Mysteries of Osiris had been originally instituted to impress
more profoundly on the mind the dogma of future rewards and punishments?" [Mystères
du Paganismine, tom. i. p. 6.]
“The sufferings and death of Osiris,"
says Mr. Wilkinson, "were
the great Mystery of the Egyptian religion and some traces of it are
perceptible among other people of antiquity. His being the divine goodness and
the abstract idea of 'good,' his manifestation upon earth (like an Indian god),
his death and resurrection, and his office as judge of the dead in a future
state, look like the early revelation of a future manifestation of the deity
converted into a mythological fable."
[Notes to Rawlinson's Herodotus, b. ii. ch. clxxi.
Mr. Bryant expresses the same opinion: "The principal rites in Egypt were
confessedly for a person lost and consigned for a time to darkness, who was at
last found. This person I have mentioned to have been described under the
character of Osiris." - Analysis of Ancient Mythology, vol. iii. p.
A similar legend and similar ceremonies, varied only
as to time, and place, and unimportant details, were to be found in all the
initiations of the ancient Mysteries. The dogma was the same, future life and
the method of inculcating it, was the same. The coincidences between the design
of these rites and that of Freemasonry, which must already begin to appear, will
enable us to give its full value to the expression of Hutchinson, when he says
that "the Master Mason represents a man under the Christian doctrine saved
from tile grave of iniquity and raised to the faith of salvation."
of Masonry, p. 100.]
In Phoenicia similar Mysteries were celebrated in
honor of Adonis, the favorite lover of Venus, who, having, while hunting, been
slain by a wild boar on Mount Lebanon, was restored to life by Proserpine. The
mythological story is familiar to every classical scholar. In the popular
theology, Adonis was the son of Cinyras, king of Cyrus, whose untimely death was
wept by Venus and her attendant nymphs in the physical theology of the
philosophers, [Varro, according to St. Augustine (De Civ. Dei, vi. 5), says that among
the ancients there were three kinds of theology - a mythical, which was
used by the poets; a physical by the philosophers, and a civil, by
the people] he was a symbol of the sun, alternately present to and absent
from the earth, but in the initiation into the Mysteries of his worship, his
resurrection and return from Hades were adopted as a type of the immortality of
the soul. The ceremonies of initiation in the Adonia began with lamentation for
his loss, - or, as the prophet Ezekiel expresses it, "Behold, there sat
women weeping for Thammutz," - for such was the name under which his
worship was introduced among the Jews and they ended with the most extravagant
demonstrations of joy at the representation of his return to life, while the
hierophant exclaimed, in a congratulatory strain,
ye initiates; the god is safe,
And from our grief salvation shall arise."
["Tous les ans," says Sainte Croix,
"pendant les jours consacrés au souvenir de sa mort, tout étoit plongeé
dans la tristesse: on ne cessoit de pousser des gémissemens; on alloit méme
jusqu'à se flageller et se donner des coups. Le dernier jour de ce deuil,]
Before proceeding to an examination of those
Mysteries, which are the most closely connected with the Masonic institution, it
will be as well to take a brief view of their general organization.
The secret worship, or Mysteries, of the ancients
were always divided into the lesser and the greater, the former being intended
only to awaken curiosity, to test the capacity and disposition of the candidate,
and by symbolical purifications to prepare him for his introduction into the
greater Mysteries. The candidate was at first called an aspirant, or seeker of
the truth, and the initial ceremony, which he underwent was a lustration or
purification by water. In this condition he may be compared to the Entered
Apprentice of the Masonic rites, and it is here worth adverting to the fact
(which will be hereafter more fully developed) that all the ceremonies in the
first degree of masonry are symbolic of an internal purification.
the lesser Mysteries, the candidate took an oath of secrecy, [Clement
of Alexandria calls them
, "the mysteries before
the mysteries."] which was administered to him by the mystagogue, and then received a
preparatory instruction, [Les petits mysteres ne consistoient qu'en cérémonies préparatoires.-
Sainte Croix, i. 297. - As to the oath of secrecy, Bryant says, "The
first thing at these awful meetings was to offer an oath of secrecy to all who
were to be initiated, after which they proceeded to the ceremonies." -
Anal. of Anc. Myth., vol. iii. p. 174. - The Orphic Argonautics allude to
, "after the oath was
administered to the mystes," &c. - Orph. Argon., v. II.]
which enabled him
afterwards to understand the developments of the higher and subsequent division.
He was now called a Mystes, or initiate, and may be compared to the
Fellow Craft of Freemasonry.
In the greater Mysteries the whole knowledge of the
divine truths, which was the object of initiation, was communicated. Here we
find, among the various ceremonies which assimilated these rites to Freemasonry,
the aphanism, which was the disappearance or death, the pastos,
the couch, coffin, or grave, the euresis, or the discovery of the
body and the autopsy. or full sight of everything, that is, the complete
communication of the secrets. The candidate was here called an epopt, or
eyewitness, because nothing was now hidden from him and hence he may be
compared to the Master Mason, of whom Hutchinson says that "he has
discovered the knowledge of God and his salvation, and been redeemed from the
death of sin and the sepulchre of pollution and unrighteousness."
- The Dionysiac Artificers.
After this general
view of the religious Mysteries of the ancient world, let us now proceed to a
closer examination of those which are more intimately connected with the history
of Freemasonry and whose influence is, to this day, most evidently felt in its
the pagan Mysteries instituted by the ancients none were more extensively
diffused than those of the Grecian god Dionysus. They were established in
Greece, Rome, Syria, and all Asia Minor. Among the Greeks, and still more among
the Romans, the rites celebrated on the Dionysiac festival were, it must be
confessed, of a dissolute and licentious character.[
The satirical pen of Aristophanes has not spared the Dionysiac festivals. But
the raillery and sarcasm of a comic writer must always be received with many
grains of allowance. He has, at least, been candid enough to confess that no one
could be initiated who had been guilty of any crime against his country or the
public security. - Ranae, v. 360 - 365. - Euripides makes the chorus in his
Baccha proclaim that the Mysteries were practised only for virtuous purposes. In
Rome, however, there can be little doubt that the initiations partook at length
of a licentious character. "On ne peut douter," says Ste. Croix,
"que l'introduction des fêtes de Bacchus en Italie n'ait accéléré les
progrès du libertinage et de la débauche dans cette contrée." - Myst.
du Pag., tom. ii. p. 91. - St. Augustine (De Civ. Dei, lib. vii. c. xxi.)
inveighs against the impurity of the ceremonies in Italy of the sacred rites of
Bacchus. But even he does not deny that the motive with which they were
performed was of a religious, or at least superstitious nature - "Sic
videlicet Liber deus placandus fuerat." The propitiation of a deity was
certainly a religious act.]
in Asia they assumed a different form. There, as elsewhere, the legend (for it
has already been said that each Mystery had its legend) recounted and the
ceremonies represented, the murder of Dionysus by the Titans. The secret
doctrine, too, among the Asiatics, was not different from that among the western
nations, but there was something peculiar in the organization of the system. The
Mysteries of Dionysus in Syria, more especially, were not simply of a
theological character. There the disciples joined to the indulgence in their
speculative and secret opinions as to the unity of God and the immortality of
the soul, which were common to all the Mysteries, the practice of an operative
and architectural art and occupied themselves as well in the construction of
temples and public buildings as in the pursuit of divine truth.
I can account for
the greater purity of these Syrian rites only by adopting the ingenious theory
of Thirwall, [Hist.
Greece, vol. ii. p. 140.],
that all the Mysteries "were the remains of a
worship which preceded the rise of the Hellenic mythology, and its attendant
rites, grounded on a view of nature less fanciful, more earnest, and better
fitted to awaken both philosophical thought and religious feeling," and by
supposing that the Asiatics, not being, from their geographical position, so
early imbued with the errors of Hellenism, had been better able to preserve the
purity and philosophy of the old Pelagic faith, which, itself, was undoubtedly a
direct emanation from the patriarchal religion, or, as it has been called, the
Pure Freemasonry of the antediluvian world.
Be this, however, as it may, we know that "the
Dionysiacs of Asia Minor were undoubtedly all association of architects and
engineers, who had the exclusive privilege of building temples, stadia, and
theatres, under the mysterious tutelage of Bacchus, and were distinguished from
the uninitiated or profane inhabitants by the science which they possessed, and
by many private signs and tokens by which they recognized each other." [This
language is quoted from Robison (Proofs of a Conspiracy, p. 20, Lond.
edit. I797), whom none will suspect or accuse of an undue veneration for the
antiquity or the morality of the masonic order.]
speculative and operative society,
speculative in the
esoteric, theological lessons which were taught in
must not confound these Asiatic builders with the play actors, who were
subsequently called by the Greeks, as we learn from Aulus Gellius (lib. xx. cap.
4), "artificers of Dionysus" ].
initiations and operative
in the labors of its members as architects was distinguished by many
peculiarities that closely assimilate it to the institution of Freemasonry. In
the practice of charity, the more opulent were bound to relieve the wants and
contribute to the support of the poorer brethren. They were divided, for the
conveniences of labor and the advantages of government, into smaller bodies,
which, like our lodges, were directed by superintending officers. They employed,
in their ceremonial observances, many of the implements of operative Masonry, and
used, like the Masons, a universal language, and conventional modes of
recognition, by which one brother might know another in the dark as well as
the light, and which served to unite the whole body, where soever they might
be dispersed, in one common brotherhood. [ There is abundant evidence, among ancient
authors, of the existence of signs and passwords in the Mysteries. Thus Apuleius,
in his Apology, says, "Si qui forte adest eorundem Solemnnium mihi
particeps, signum dato," etc.; that is, "If any one happens to be
present who has been initiated into the same rites as myself, if he will give me
the sign, he shall then be at liberty to hear what it is that I keep with so
much care." Plautus also alludes to this usage, when, in his "Miles
Gloriosus," act iv. sc. 2, he makes Milphidippa say to Pyrgopolonices,
"Cedo signum, si harunc Baccharum es;" i. e., "Give the sign if
you are one of these Bacchae," or initiates into the Mysteries of Bacchus.
Clemens Alexandrinus calls these modes of recognition
, as if means of safety.
Apuleius elsewhere uses memoracula, I think to denote passwords, when he
says, "sanctissimè sacrorum signa et memoracula custodire," which I
am inclined to translate, "most scrupulously to preserve the signs and
passwords of the sacred rites."]
I have said that in
the mysteries of Dionysus the legend recounted the death of that hero-god, and
the subsequent discovery of his body. Some further details of the nature of the
Dionysiac ritual are, therefore, necessary for a thorough appreciation of the
points to which I propose directly to invite attention.
In these mystic
rites, the aspirant was made to represent, symbolically and in a dramatic form,
the events connected with the slaying of the god from whom the Mysteries derived
their name. After a variety of preparatory ceremonies, intended to call forth
all his courage and fortitude, the aphanism or mystical death of Dionysus was
figured out in the ceremonies, and the shrieks and lamentations of the
initiates, with the confinement or burial of the candidate on the pastos, couch,
or coffin, constituted the first part of the ceremony of initiation. Then began
the search of Rhea for the remains of Dionysus, which was continued amid scenes
of the greatest confusion and tumult, until, at last, the search having been
successful, the mourning, was turned into joy, light succeeded to darkness, and
the candidate was invested with the knowledge of the secret doctrine of the
Mysteries, the belief in the existence of one God, and a future state of rewards
and punishments. [ The Baron de Sainte Croix gives this brief view of
the ceremonies: "Dans ces mysteres on employoit, pour remplir l'âme des
assistans d'une sainte horreur, les mêmes moyens qu'à Eleusis. L'apparition de
fantômes et de divers objets propres à effrayer, sembloit disposer les esprits
à la crédulité. Ils en avoient sans doute besoin, pour ajouter foi à toutes
les explications des mystagogues: elles rouloient sur le massacre de Bacchus par
les Titans," &c. - Recherches sur les Mystères da Paganisme,
tom. ii. sect. vii. art. iii. p. 89.]
Such were the
mysteries that were practised by the architects - the Freemasons, so to speak -
of Asia Minor. At Tyre, the richest and most important city of that region, a
city memorable for the splendor and magnificence of the buildings with which it
was decorated, there were colonies or lodges of these mystic architects; and
this fact I request that you will bear in mind, as it forms an important link in
the chain that connects the Dionysiacs with the Freemasons.
But to make every
link in this chain of connection complete, it is necessary that the mystic
artists of Tyre should be proved to be at least contemporaneous with the
building of King Solomon's temple; and the evidence of that fact I shall now
attempt to produce.
Lawrie, whose elaborate researches into this subject
leave us nothing further to discover, places the arrival of the Dionysiacs in
Asia Minor at the time of the Ionic migration, when "the inhabitants of
Attica, complaining of the narrowness of their territory and the unfruitfulness
of its soil, went in quest of more extensive and fertile settlements. Being
joined by a number of the inhabitants of surrounding provinces, they sailed to
Asia Minor, drove out the original inhabitants, and seized upon the most
eligible situations and united them under the name of Ionia, because the
greatest number of the refugees were natives of that Grecian province."
[Lawrie, Hist. of Freemasonry, p. 27.]
With their knowledge
of the arts of sculpture and architecture, in which the Greeks had already made
some progress, the emigrants brought over to their new settlements their
religious customs also, and introduced into Asia the mysteries of Athena and
Dionysus long before they had been corrupted by the licentiousness of the mother
Now, Playfair places
the Ionic migiration in the year 1044 B. C., Gillies in 1055, and the Abbé
Barthelemy in 1076. But the latest of these periods will extend as far back as
forty-four years before the commencement of the temple of Solomon at Jerusalem,
and will give ample time for the establishment of the Dionysiac fraternity at
the city of Tyre, and the initiation of "Hiram the Builder" into its
Let us now pursue
the chain of historical events, which finally united this purest branch of the
Spurious Freemasonry of the pagan nations with the Primitive Freemasonry of the
Jews at Jerusalem.
King of Israel, was about to build, in accordance with the purposes of his
father, David, "a house unto the name of Jehovah, his God," he made
his intention known to Hiram, king of Tyre, his friend and ally and because he
was well aware of the architectural skill of the Tyrian Dionysiacs, he besought
that monarch's assistance to enable him to carry his pious design into
Scripture informs us that Hiram complied with the request of Solomon, and sent
him the necessary workmen to assist him in the glorious undertaking. Among
others, he sent an architect, who is briefly described, in the First Book of
Kings, as "a widow's son, of the tribe of Naphtali, and his father a man of
Tyre, a worker in brass, a man filled with wisdom and understanding and cunning
to work all works in brass; " and more fully, in the Second Book of
Chronicles, as "a cunning man, endued with understanding of Hiram my
father's, the son of a woman of the daughters of Dan, and his father, a man of
Tyre, skilful to work in gold, and in silver, in brass, in iron, in stone, and
in timber, in purple, in blue, and in fine linen and in crimson, also to grave
any manner of graving, and to find out any device which shall be put to
To this man, this
widow's son (as Scripture history, as well as Masonic tradition informs us) was
intrusted by King Solomon an important position among the workmen at the sacred
edifice, which was constructed on Mount Moriah. His knowledge and experience as
an artificer, and his eminent skill in every kind of "curious and cunning
workmanship," readily placed him at the head of both the Jewish and
Tyrian craftsmen, as the chief builder and principal conductor of the works and
it is to him, by means of the large authority, which this position gave him,
that we attribute the union of two people, so antagonistical in race, so
dissimilar in manners and so opposed in religion, as the Jews and Tyrians, in
one common brotherhood, which resulted in the organization of the institution of
Freemasonry. This Hiram, as a Tyrian and an artificer, must have been
connected with the Dionysiac fraternity; nor could he have been a very humble or
inconspicuous member, if we may judge of his rank in the society, from the
amount of talent which he is said to have possessed, and from the elevated
position that he held in the affections and at the court, of the king of Tyre.
He must, therefore, have been well acquainted with all the ceremonial usages of
the Dionysiac artificers, and must have enjoyed a long experience of the
advantages of the government and discipline which they practised in the erection
of the many sacred edifices in which they were engaged. A portion of these
ceremonial usages and of this discipline he would naturally be inclined to
introduce among the workmen at Jerusalem. He therefore united them in a society,
similar in many respects to that of the Dionysiac artificers. He inculcated
lessons of charity and brotherly love. He established a ceremony of initiation,
to test experimentally the fortitude and worth of the candidate, adopted modes
of recognition and impressed the obligations of duty and principles of morality
by means of symbols and allegories.
To the laborers and
men of burden, the Ish Sabal and to the craftsmen, corresponding with the
first and second degrees of more modern Masonry, but little secret knowledge was
confided. Like the aspirants in the lesser Mysteries of paganism, their
instructions were simply to purify and prepare them for a more solemn ordeal,
and for the knowledge of the sublimest truths. These were to be found
only in the Master's degree, which it was intended should be in imitation of the
greater Mysteries and in it were to be unfolded, explained and enforced the
great doctrines of the unity of God and the immortality of the soul. But
here there must have at once arisen an apparently insurmountable obstacle to the
further continuation of the resemblance of Masonry to the Mysteries of Dionysus.
In the pagan Mysteries, I have already said that these lessons were
allegorically taught by means of a legend. Now, in the Mysteries of Dionysus,
the legend was that of the death and subsequent resuscitation of the god
Dionysus. But it would have been utterly impossible to introduce such a
legend as the basis of any instructions to be communicated to Jewish candidates.
Any allusion to the mythological fables of their Gentile neighbors, any
celebration of the myths of pagan theology, would have been equally offensive to
the taste and repugnant to the religious prejudices of a nation educated, from
generation to generation, in the worship of a divine being jealous of his
prerogatives and who had made himself known to his people as the JEHOVA, the God
of time present, past, and future. How this obstacle would have been surmounted
by the Israelitish founder of the order I am unable to say, a substitute
would, no doubt, have been invented, which would have met all the symbolic
requirements of the legend of the Mysteries, or Spurious Freemasonry,
without violating the religious principles of the Primitive Freemasonry of the
Jews, but the necessity for such invention never existed and before the
completion of the temple a melancholy event is said to have occurred, which
served to cut the Gordian knot, and the death of its chief architect has
supplied Freemasonry with its appropriate legend, a legend which, like the
legends of all the Mysteries, is used to testify our faith in the resurrection
of the body and the immortality of the soul.
this part of the subject, it is proper that something should be said of the
authenticity of the legend of the third degree. Some distinguished Masons are
disposed to give it full credence as an historical fact, while others look upon
it only as a beautiful allegory. So far as the question has any bearing upon the
symbolism of Freemasonry it is not of importance, but those who contend for its
historical character assert that they do so on the following grounds.
First. Because the character of the legend is such as
to meet all the requirements of the well known axiom of Vincentitis Lirinensis,
as to what we are to believe in traditional matters.
semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus traditum est."
Lirinensis or Vincent of Lirens, who lived in the fifth century of the Christian
era, wrote a controversial treatise entitled "Commonitorium,"
remarkable for the blind veneration which it pays to the voice of tradition. The
rule which he there lays down, and which is cited in the text, may be
considered, in a modified application, as an axiom by which we may test the probability,
at least, of all sorts of traditions. None out of the pale of Vincent's church
will go so far as he did in making it the criterion of positive truth.]
That is, we are to
believe whatever tradition has been at all times, in all places and by all
persons handed down. With this rule the legend of Hiram Abif, they say, agrees
in every respect. It has been universally received and almost universally
credited, among Freemasons from the earliest times. We have no record of any
Masonry having ever existed since the time of the temple without it and indeed,
it is so closely interwoven into the whole system, forming the most essential
part of it and giving it its most determinative character, that it is evident
that the institution could no more exist without the legend, than the legend
could have been retained without the institution. This, therefore, the advocates
of the historical character of the legend think, gives probability at least to
Secondly. It is not
contradicted by the scriptural history of the transactions at the temple and
therefore, in the absence of the only existing written authority on the subject,
we are at liberty to depend on traditional information, provided the tradition
be, as it is contended that in this instance it is, reasonable, probable, and
supported by uninterrupted succession.
Thirdly. It is
contended that the very silence of Scripture in relation to the death of Hiram,
the Builder, is an argument in favor of the mysterious nature of that death. A
man so important in his position as to have been called the favorite of two
kings, sent by one and received by the other as a gift of surpassing value, and
the donation thought worthy of a special record, would hardly have passed into
oblivion, when his labor was finished, without the memento of a single line,
unless his death had taken place in such a way as to render a public account of
it improper. And this
is supposed to have been the fact. It had become the legend of the new
Mysteries, and, like those of the old ones, was only to be divulged when
accompanied with the symbolic instructions, which it was intended to impress
upon the minds of the aspirants.
But if, on the other
hand, it be admitted that the legend of the third degree is a fiction, that
the whole Masonic and extra-scriptural account of Hiram Abif is simply a myth,
it could not, in the slightest degree, affect the theory, which it is my
object to establish. For since, in a mythic relation, as the
learned Müller [ Proleg.
zu einer wissenshaftlich. Mythologie] has observed, fact and imagination, the real and the
ideal, are very closely united, and since the myth itself always arises,
according to the same author, out of a necessity and unconsciousness on the part
of its framers, and by impulses which act alike on all, we must go back to the
Spurious Freemasonry of the Dionysiacs for the principle, which led to the
involuntary formation of this Hiramic myth and then we arrive at the same
result, which has been already indicated, namely, that the necessity of the
religious sentiment in the Jewish mind, to which the introduction of the legend
of Dionysus would have been abhorrent, led to the substitution for it of that of
Hiram, in which the ideal parts of the narrative have been intimately blended
with real transactions. That there was such a man as Hiram Abif, that he was the
chief builder at the temple of Jerusalem, that he was the confidential friend of
the Kings of Israel and Tyre, which is indicated by his title of Ab, or father;
and that he is not heard of after the completion of the temple, are all
historical facts. That he died by violence and in the way described in the
Masonic legend, may be also true, or may be merely mythical elements
incorporated into the historical narrative.
But whether this
be so or not, whether the legend be
a fact or a fiction, a history or a myth, this,
at least, is certain, that it was adopted by the Solomonic Masons of the temple
as a substitute for the idolatrous legend of the death of Dionysus, which
belonged to the Dionysiac Mysteries of the Tyrian workmen.
Union Of Speculative And Operative Masonry
The Temple Of Solomon.
Thus, then, we
arrive at another important epoch in the history of the origin of Freemasonry.
I have shown how the
Primitive Freemasonry, originating in this new world, with Noah, was handed down
to his descendants as a purely speculative institution, embracing certain
traditions of the nature of God and of the soul.
I have shown how,
soon after the deluge, the descendants of Noah separated, one portion, losing
their traditions, and substituting in their place idolatrous and polytheistic
religions, while the other and smaller portion retained and communicated those
original traditions under the name of the Primitive Freemasonry of antiquity.
I have shown how,
among the polytheistic nations, there were a few persons who still had a dim and
clouded understanding of these traditions, and that they taught them in certain
secret institutions, known as the "Mysteries," thus establishing
another branch of the speculative science which is known under the name of the
Spurious Freemasonry of antiquity.
Again, I have shown
how one sect or division of these Spurious Freemasons existed at Tyre about the
time of the building of King Solomnon's temple, and added to their speculative
science, which was much purer than that of their contemporary Gentile mystics,
the practice of the arts of architecture and sculpture, under the name of the
Dionysiac Fraternity of Artificers.
And, lastly, I have
shown how, at the building of the Solomonic temple, on the invitation of the
king of Israel, a large body of these architects repaired from Tyre to
Jerusalem, organized a new institution, or, rather, a modification of the two
old ones, the Primitive Freemasons among the Israelites yielding something, and
the Spurious Freemasons among the Tyrians yielding more; the former purifying
the speculative science, and the latter introducing the operative art, together
with the mystical ceremonies with which they accompanied its administration.
It is at this epoch,
then, that I place the first union of speculative and operative Masonry, a
union which continued uninterruptedly to exist until a comparatively recent
period, to which I shall have occasion hereafter briefly to advert.
The other branches
of the Spurious Freemasonry were not, however, altogether and at once abolished
by this union, but continued also to exist and teach their half truthful dogmas,
for ages after, with interrupted success and diminished influence, until, in the
fifth century of the Christian era, the whole of them were proscribed by the
Emperor Theodosius. From time to time, however, other partial unions took place,
as in the instance of Pythagoras, who, originally a member of the school of
Spurious Freemasonry, was, during his visit to Babylon, about four hundred and
fifty years after the union at the temple of Jerusalem, initiated by the captive
Israelites into the rites of Temple Masonry, whence the instructions of that
sage approximate much more nearly to the principles of Freemasonry, both in
spirit and in letter, than those of any other of the philosophers of antiquity,
for which reason he is familiarly called, in the modern Masonic lectures,
"an ancient friend and brother," and an important symbol of the order,
the forty-seventh problem of Euclid, has been consecrated to his memory.
I do not now propose
to enter upon so extensive a task as to trace the history of the institution
from the completion of the first temple to its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar;
through the seventy-two years of Babylonish captivity to the rebuilding of the
second temple by Zerubbabel, thence to the devastation of Jerusalem by Titus,
when it was first introduced into Europe, through all its struggles in the
middle ages, sometimes protected and sometimes persecuted by the church,
sometimes forbidden by the law and oftener encouraged by the monarch, until, in
the beginning of the sixteenth century, it assumed its present organization. The
details would require more time for their recapitulation than the limits of the
present work will permit.
But my object is not
so much to give a connected history of the progress of Freemasonry as to present
a rational view of its origin and an examination of those important
modifications which, from time to time, were impressed upon it by external
influences, so as to enable us the more readily to appreciate the true character
and design of its symbolism.
Two salient points, at least, in its subsequent
history, especially invite attention, because they have an important bearing on
its organization, as a combined speculative and operative institution.
VIII - The Travelling Freemasons of
The Middle Ages.
The first of these points to which I refer is the
establishment of a body of architects, widely disseminated throughout Europe
during the middle ages under the avowed name of Travelling Freemasons.
This association of workmen, said to have been the descendants of the Temple
Masons, may be traced by the massive monuments of their skill at as early a
period as the ninth or tenth century; although, according to the authority of
Mr. Hope, who has written elaborately on the subject, some historians have found
the evidence of their existence in the seventh century, and have traced a
peculiar Masonic language in the reigns of Charlemagne of France and Alfred of
It is to these men,
to their preeminent skill in architecture and to their well organized system
as a class of workmen, that the world is indebted for those magnificent edifices,
which sprang up in such undeviating principles of architectural form during the
they came," says Mr. Hope, "in the suite of missionaries, or were
called by the natives, or arrived of their own accord, to seek employment, they
appeared headed by a chief surveyor, who governed the whole troop, and named one
man out of every ten, under the name of warden, to overlook the nine others, set
themselves to building temporary huts [
In German hütten, in English lodges, whence the masonic term]
habitation around the spot where the work was to be carried on, regularly
organized their different departments, fell to work, sent for fresh supplies of
their brethren as the object demanded and when all was finished, again raised
their encampment and went elsewhere to undertake other jobs." [
Historical Essay on Architecture, ch. Xxi]
continued to preserve the commingled features of operative and speculative
masonry, as they had been practised at the temple of Solomon. Admission to the
community was not restricted to professional artisans, but men of eminence, and
particularly ecclesiastics, were numbered among its members. "These
latter," says Mr. Hope, "were especially anxious, themselves, to
direct the improvement and erection of their churches and monasteries, and to
manage the expenses of their buildings, and became members of an establishment,
which had so high and sacred a destination, was so entirely exempt from all
local, civil jurisdiction, acknowledged the pope alone as its direct chief and
only worked under his immediate authority and thence, we read of so many
ecclesiastics of the highest rank, abbots, prelates, bishops , conferring
additional weight and respectability on the order of Freemasonry by becoming its
members themselves giving the designs and superintending the construction of
their churches and employing the manual labor of their own monks in the
edification of them."
Thus in England, in
the tenth century, the Masons are said to have received the special protection
of King Athelstan; in the eleventh century, Edward the Confessor declared
himself their patron; and in the twelfth, Henry I. gave them his protection.
Into Scotland the
Freemasons penetrated as early as the beginning of the twelfth century, and
erected the Abbey of Kilwinning, which afterwards became the cradle of Scottish
Masonry under the government of King Robert Bruce.
Of the magnificent
edifices, which they erected and of their exalted condition under both
ecclesiastical and lay patronage in other countries, it is not necessary to give
a minute detail. It is sufficient to say that in every part of Europe evidences
are to be found of the existence of Freemasonry, practised by an organized body
of workmen and with whom men of learning were united or in other words, of a
combined operative and speculative institution.
What the nature of
this speculative science continued to be, we may learn from that very curious,
if authentic, document, dated at Cologne, in the year 1535, and hence designated
as the "Charter of Cologne." In that instrument, which purports to
have been issued by the heads of the order in nineteen different and important
cities of Europe and is addressed to their brethren as a defence against the
calumnies of their enemies, it is announced that the order took its origin at a
time, "when a few adepts, distinguished by their life, their moral
and their sacred interpretation of the arcanic truths, withdrew themselves from
the multitude in order more effectually to preserve uncontaminated the moral
precepts of that religion, which is implanted in the mind of man."
We thus, then, have
before us an aspect of Freemasonry as it existed in the middle ages, when it
presents itself to our view as both operative and speculative in its character.
The operative element that had been infused into it by the Dionysiac artificers
of Tyre, at the building of the Solomonic temple, was not yet dissevered from
the pure speculative element which had prevailed in it anterior to that period.
Chapter- IX - Disseverance
of the Operative Element.
The next point to
which our attention is to be directed is when, a few centuries later, the
operative character of the institution began to be less prominent and the
speculative to assume a pre-eminence, which eventually ended in the total
separation of the two.
At what precise
period the speculative began to predominate over the operative element of the
society, it is impossible to say. The change was undoubtedly gradual, and is to
be attributed, in all probability, to the increased number of literary and
scientific men who were admitted into the ranks of the fraternity.
The Charter of
Cologne, to which I have just alluded, speaks of "learned and enlightened
men" as constituting the society long before the date of that document,
which was 1535, but the authenticity of this work has, it must be confessed,
been impugned and I will not, therefore, press the argument on its doubtful
authority. But the diary of that celebrated antiquary, Elias Ashmole, which
is admitted to be authentic, describes his admission in the year 1646 into the
order, when there is no doubt that the operative character was fast giving way
to the speculative. Preston tells us that about thirty years before, when
the Earl of Pembroke assumed the Grand Mastership of England, "many
eminent, wealthy, and learned men were admitted."
In the year 1663
an assembly of the Freemasons of England was held at London, and the Earl of St.
Albans was elected Grand Master. At this assembly certain regulations were
adopted, in which the qualifications prescribed for candidates clearly allude to
the speculative character of the institution.
And, finally, at the
commencement of the eighteenth century, and during the reign of Queen Anne, who
died, it will be remembered, in 1714, a proposition was agreed to by the
society "that the privileges of Masonry should no longer be restricted to
operative masons, but extend to men of various professions, provided that they
were regularly approved and initiated into the order."
records of the society show that from the year 1717, at least, the era commonly,
but improperly, distinguished as the restoration of Masonry, the operative
element of the institution has been completely discarded, except so far as its
influence is exhibited in the choice and arrangement of symbols, and the typical
use of its technical language.
The history of
the origin of the order is here concluded; and in briefly recapitulating, I may
say that in its first inception, from the time of Noah to the building of the
temple of Solomon, it was entirely speculative in its character; that at the
construction of that edifice, an operative element was infused into it by the
Tyrian builders, that it continued to retain this compound operative and
speculative organization until about the middle of the seventeenth century, when
the latter element began to predominate and finally, that at the commencement of
the eighteenth century, the operative element wholly disappeared and the
society has ever since presented itself in the character of a simply speculative
The history that I
have thus briefly sketched, will elicit from every reflecting mind at least two
deductions of some importance to the intelligent Mason.
In the first
place, we may observe, that ascending, as the institution does, away up the
stream of time, almost to the very fountains of history, for its source, it
comes down to us, at this day, with so venerable an appearance of antiquity,
that for that cause and on that claim alone it demands the respect of the world.
It is no recent invention of human genius, whose vitality has yet to be tested
by the wear and tear of time and opposition, and no sudden growth of short-lived
enthusiasm, whose existence may be as ephemeral as its birth was recent.
One of the oldest of these modern institutions, the Carbonarism of Italy, boasts
an age that scarcely amounts to the half of a century, and has not been able to
extend its progress beyond the countries of Southern Europe, immediately
adjacent to the place of its birth; while it and every other society of our own
times that have sought to simulate the outward appearance of Freemasonry, seem
to him who has examined the history of this ancient institution to have sprung
around it, like mushrooms bursting from between the roots and vegetating under
the shade of some mighty and venerable oak, the patriarch of the forest, whose
huge trunk and wide-extended branches have protected them from the sun and the
gale and whose fruit, thrown off in autumn, has enriched and fattened the soil
that gives these humbler plants their power of life and growth.
But there is a more
important deduction to be drawn from this narrative. In tracing the progress of
Freemasonry, we shall find it so intimately connected with the history of
philosophy, of religion and of art in all ages of the world, that it is evident
that no Mason can expect thoroughly to understand the nature of the institution,
or to appreciate its character, unless he shall carefully study its annals and
make himself conversant with the facts of history, to which and from which it
gives and receives a mutual influence. The brother who unfortunately supposes
that the only requisites of a skilful Mason consist in repeating with fluency
the ordinary lectures, or in correctly opening and closing the lodge, or in
giving with sufficient accuracy the modes of recognition, will hardly credit the
assertion, that he whose knowledge of the "royal art" extends no
farther than these preliminaries has scarcely advanced beyond the rudiments of
our science. There is a far nobler series of doctrines with which
Freemasonry is connected, and which no student ever began to investigate who did
not find himself insensibly led on, from step to step in his researches, his
love and admiration of the order increasing with the augmentation of his
acquaintance with its character. It is this, which constitutes the science and
the philosophy of Freemasonry, and it is this alone which will return the
scholar who devotes himself to the task a sevenfold reward for his labor.
With this view I propose, in the next place, to enter
upon an examination of that science and philosophy as they are developed in the
system of symbolism, which owes its existence to this peculiar origin and
organization of the order and without a knowledge of which, such as I have
attempted to portray it in this preliminary inquiry, the science itself could
never be understood.
- The System of Symbolic Instruction.
The lectures of the
English lodges, which are far more philosophical than our own, (although I do
not believe that the system itself is in general as philosophically studied by
our English brethren as by ourselves) have beautifully defined Freemasonry
to be "a science of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by
symbols." But allegory itself is nothing else but verbal symbolism.
It is the symbol of an idea, or of a series of ideas, not presented to the mind
in an objective and visible form, but clothed in language and exhibited in the
form of a narrative. And therefore the English definition amounts, in fact,
to this, “that Freemasonry is a science of morality, developed and
inculcated by the ancient method of symbolism.” It is this peculiar
character as a symbolic institution, this entire adoption of the method of
instruction by symbolism, which gives its whole identity to Freemasonry, and has
caused it to differ from every other association that the ingenuity of man has
devised. It is this that has bestowed upon it that attractive form which has
always secured the attachment of its disciples and its own perpetuity.
The Roman Catholic
church is, perhaps, the
only contemporaneous institution which continues to cultivate, in any degree,
the beautiful system of symbolism. [Bishop England, in his "Explanation of the
Mass," says that in every ceremony we must look for three meanings:
"the first, the literal, natural, and, it may be said, the original
meaning; the second, the figurative or emblematic signification; and thirdly,
the pious or religious meaning: frequently the two last will be found the same;
sometimes all three will be found combined." Here lies the true difference
between the symbolism of the church and that of Masonry. In the former, the
symbolic meaning was an afterthought applied to the original, literal one; in
the latter, the symbolic was always the original signification of every
But that which, in
the Catholic church, is, in a great measure, incidental, and the fruit of
development, is, in Freemasonry, the very life blood and soul of the
institution, born with it at its birth, or, rather, the germ from which the tree
has sprung, and still giving it support, nourishment, and even existence.
Withdraw from Freemasonry its symbolism, and you take from the body its soul,
leaving behind nothing but a lifeless mass of effete matter, fitted only for a
Since, then, the
science of symbolism forms so important a part of the system of Freemasonry, it
will be well to commence any discussion of that subject by an investigation of
the nature of symbols in general.
There is no science
so ancient as that of symbolism ["Was not all the knowledge Of the Egyptians writ
in mystic symbols? Speak not the Scriptures oft in parables? Are not the
choicest fables of the poets, That were the fountains and first springs of
wisdom, Wrapped in perplexed allegories?" Ben Jonson, Alchemist, act
ii. sc. i. P] and no mode of instruction has ever been so general as was the symbolic
in former ages. "The first learning in the world," says the great
antiquary, Dr. Stukely, "consisted chiefly of symbols. The wisdom of the
Chaldeans, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Jews, of Zoroaster, Sanchoniathon, Pherecydes,
Syrus, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, of all the ancients that is come to our
hand, is symbolic." And the learned Faber remarks that,
"allegory and personification were peculiarly agreeable to the genius of
antiquity, and the simplicity of truth was continually sacrificed at the shrine
of poetical decoration."
In fact, man's earliest instruction was by symbols. [The distinguished German mythologist Müller defines
a symbol to be "an eternal, visible sign, with which a spiritual feeling,
emotion, or idea is connected." I am not aware of a more comprehensive, and
at the same time distinctive, definition]
The objective character of a symbol is best
calculated to be grasped by the infant mind, whether the infancy of that mind be
considered nationally or individually. And hence, in the first
ages of the world, in its infancy, all propositions, theological, political, or
scientific, were expressed in the form of symbols. Thus the first religions were
eminently symbolical, because, as that great philosophical historian, Grote, has
remarked, "At a time when language was yet in its infancy, visible symbols
were the most vivid means of acting upon the minds of ignorant hearers."
receive their elementary teaching in symbols. "A was an Archer;" what
is this but symbolism? The archer becomes to the infant mind the symbol of the
letter A, just as, in after life, the letter becomes, to the more advanced mind,
the symbol of a certain sound of the human voice. [And
it may be added, that the word becomes a symbol of an idea; and hence, Harris,
in his "Hermes," defines language to be "a system of articulate
voices, the symbols of our ideas, but of those principally which are general or
universal."—Hermes, book iii. ch. 3]
The first lesson
received by a child in acquiring his alphabet is thus conveyed by symbolism.
Even in the very formation of language, the medium of communication between man
and man, and which must hence have been an elementary step in the progress of
human improvement, it was found necessary to have recourse to symbols, for words
are only and truly certain arbitrary symbols by which and through which we give
an utterance to our ideas. The construction of language was, therefore, one of
the first products of the science of symbolism.
We must constantly
bear in mind this fact, of the primary existence and predominance of symbolism
in the earliest times, when we are investigating the nature of the ancient
religions, with which the history of Freemasonry is so intimately connected. The
older the religion, the more the symbolism abounds. Modern religions may convey
their dogmas in abstract propositions; ancient religions always conveyed them in
symbols. Thus there is more symbolism in the Egyptian religion than in the
Jewish, more in the Jewish than in the Christian, more in the Christian than in
the Mohammedan, and, lastly, more in the Roman than in the Protestant.
Symbols," says Müller, "are evidently coeval with the human race;
they result from the union of the soul with the body in man; nature has
implanted the feeling for them in the human heart."—Introduction to a
Scientific System of Mythology, p. 196, Leitch's translation.—R.W. Mackay
says, "The earliest instruments of education were symbols, the most
universal symbols of the multitudinously present Deity, being earth or heaven,
or some selected object, such as the sun or moon, a tree or a stone, familiarly
seen in either of them."—Progress of the Intellect, vol. i p. 134.]
But symbolism is not
only the most ancient and general, but it is also the most practically useful,
of sciences. We have already seen how actively it operates in the early stages
of life and of society. We have seen how the first ideas of men and of nations
are impressed upon their minds by means of symbols. It was thus that the ancient
peoples were almost wholly educated.
"In the simpler
stages of society," says one writer on this subject, "mankind can be
instructed in the abstract knowledge of truths only by symbols and parables.
Hence we find most heathen religions becoming mythic, or explaining their
mysteries by allegories, or instructive incidents. Nay, God himself, knowing the
nature of the creatures formed by him, has condescended, in the earlier
revelations that he made of himself, to teach by symbols and the greatest of all
teachers instructed the multitudes by parables.
the allegory, or parable, and the symbol, there is, as I have said, no essential
difference. The Greek verb
παραβαλλω, whence comes the word parable,
and the verb συμβαλλω in the same
language, which is the root of the word symbol, both have the synonymous
meaning "to compare." A parable is only a spoken symbol. The
definition of a parable given by Adam Clarke is equally applicable to a symbol,
viz.: "A comparison or similitude, in which one thing is compared with
another, especially spiritual things with natural, by which means these
spiritual things are better understood, and make a deeper impression on the
The great exemplar
of the ancient philosophy and the grand archetype of modern philosophy were
alike distinguished by their possessing this faculty in a high degree, and have
told us that man was best instructed by similitudes."
British Review, August, 1851. Faber passes a similar encomium. "Hence the
language of symbolism, being so purely a language of ideas, is, in one respect,
more perfect than any ordinary language can be: it possesses the variegated
elegance of synonymes without any of the obscurity which arises from the use of
ambiguous terms."—On the Prophecies, ii. p. 63]
Such is the system
adopted in Freemasonry for the development and inculcation of the great
religious and philosophical truths, of which it was, for so many years, the sole
conservator. And it is for this reason that I have already remarked, that any
inquiry into the symbolic character of Freemasonry, must be preceded by an
investigation of the nature of symbolism in general, if we would properly
appreciate its particular use in the organization of the Masonic institution.
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