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Article # 227
The Symbolism of Freemasonry-Chapters 21to 26

Author: Bro.Dr. Albert Gallatin Mackey    Posted on: Tuesday, October 17, 2006
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[ Chapters 21 to 26 of The Symbolism of Freemasonry are posted in the Article]


The Symbolism of Freemasonry.

  Illustrating And Explaining

Its Science and Philosophy, its Legends, Myths  and Symbols.

by  Albert G. Mackey. M.D.,
 1882- Edition.

(Chapters 21 to 26.)


  1. The Rite of Circumambulation
  2. The Rite of Intrusting and the Symbolism of Light.
  3. Symbolism of the Corner-stone.
  4. The Ineffable Name.
  5. The Legends of Freemasonry.
  6. The Legend of the Winding Stairs.

  XXI---The Rite of Circumambulation.

The rite of circumambulation will supply us with another ritualistic symbol, in which we may again trace the identity of the origin of Freemasonry with that of the religious and mystical ceremonies of the ancients. "Circumambulation" is the name given by sacred archaeologists to that religious rite in the ancient initiations, which consisted in a formal procession around the altar, or other holy and consecrated object.


The prevalence of this rite among the ancients appears to have been universal and it originally (as I shall have occasion to show) alluded to the apparent course of the sun in the firmament, which is from east to west by the way of the south.


In ancient Greece, when the priests were engaged in the rites of sacrifice, they and the people always walked three times around the altar while chanting a sacred hymn or ode. Sometimes, while the people stood around the altar, the rite of circumambulation was performed by the priest alone, who, turning towards the right hand, went around it, and sprinkled it with meal and holy water. In making this circumambulation, it was considered absolutely necessary that the right side should always be next to the altar and consequently, that the procession should move from the east to the south, then to the west, next to the north, and afterwards to the east again. It was in this way that the apparent revolution was represented.


This ceremony the Greeks called moving εϗ δεξια εν δεξια, from the right to the right, which was the direction of the motion, and the Romans applied to it the term dextrovorsum, or dextrorsum, which signifies the same thing. Thus Plautus makes Palinurus, a character in his comedy of "Curculio," say, "If you would do reverence to the gods, you must turn to the right hand." Gronovius, in commenting on this passage of  Plautus, says, "In worshipping and praying to the gods they were accustomed to turn to the right hand."


A hymn of Callimachus has been preserved, which is said to have been chanted by the priests of Apollo at Delos, while performing this ceremony of circumambulation, the substance of which is, "We imitate the example of the sun, and follow his benevolent course."  It will be observed that this circumambulation around the altar was accompanied by the singing or chanting of a sacred ode. Of the three parts of the ode, the strophe, the antistrophe, and the epode, each was to be sung at a particular part of the procession. The analogy between this chanting of an ode by the ancients and the recitation of a passage of Scripture in the Masonic circumambulation, will be at once apparent.


Among the Romans, the ceremony of circumambulation was always used in the rites of sacrifice, of expiation or purification. Thus Virgil describes Corynasus as purifying his companions, at the funeral of Misenus, by passing three times around them while aspersing them with the lustral waters and to do so conveniently, it was necessary that he should have moved with his right hand towards them.

"Idem ter socios pura circumtulit unda,
                        Spargens rore levi et ramo felicis olivæ."   Æn. vi. 229.

"Thrice with pure water compassed he the crew,
Sprinkling, with olive branch, the gentle dew."


In fact, so common was it to unite the ceremony of circumambulation with that of expiation or purification, or, in other words, to make a circuitous procession, in performing the latter rite, that the term lustrare, whose primitive meaning is "to purify," came at last to be synonymous with circuire, to walk round anything; and hence a purification and a circumambulation were often expressed by the same word.


Among the Hindoos, the same rite of circumambulation has always been practised. As an instance, we may cite the ceremonies, which are to be performed by a Brahmin upon first rising from bed in the morning, an accurate account of which has been given by Mr. Colebrooke in the "Asiatic Researches." The priest, having first adored the sun while directing his face to the east, then walks towards the west by the way of the south, saying, at the same time, "I follow the course of the sun," which he thus explains: "As the sun in his course moves round the world by the way of the south, so do I follow that luminary, to obtain the benefit arising from a journey round the earth by the way of the south.”

[. See a paper "on the religious ceremonies of the Hindus," by H.T. Colebrooke, Esq. in the Asiatic Researches, vol. vi. p. 357.]


Lastly, I may refer to the preservation of this rite among the Druids, whose "mystical dance" around the cairn, or sacred stones, was nothing more nor less than the rite of circumambulation. On these occasions the priest always made three circuits, from east to west, by the right hand, around the altar or cairn, accompanied by all the worshippers. And so sacred was the rite once considered, that we learn from Toland  [A Specimen of the Critical History of the Celtic Religion and Learning. Letter ii. § xvii]  that in the Scottish Isles, once a principal seat of the Druidical religion, the people "never come to the ancient sacrificing and fire hallowing cairns, but they walk three times around them, from east to west, according to the course of the sun." This sanctified tour, or round by the south, he observes, is called Deiseal, as the contrary, or unhallowed one by the north, is called Tuapholl. And he further remarks, that this word Deiseal was derived "from Deas, the right (understanding hand) and soil, one of the ancient names of the sun, the right hand in this round being ever next the heap."


I might pursue these researches still further, and trace this rite of circumambulation to other nations of antiquity; but I conceive that enough has been said to show its universality, as well as the tenacity with which the essential ceremony of performing the motion a mystical number of times, and always by the right hand, from the east, through the south, to the west, was preserved. And I think that this singular analogy to the same rite in Freemasonry must lead us to the legitimate conclusion, that the common source of all these rites is to be found in the identical origin of the Spurious Freemasonry or pagan mysteries, and the pure, Primitive Freemasonry, from which the former seceded only to be deteriorated.


In reviewing what has been said on this subject, it will at once be perceived that the essence of the ancient rite consisted in making the circumambulation around the altar, from the east to the south, from the south to the west, thence to the north and to the east again. Now, in this the Masonic rite of circumambulation strictly agrees with the ancient one.  But this circuit by the right hand, it is admitted, was done as a representation of the sun's motion. It was a symbol of the sun's apparent course around the earth.


And so, then, here again we have in Masonry that old and often repeated allusion to sun worship, which has already been seen in the officers of a lodge and in the point within a circle. And as the circumambulation is made around the lodge, just as the sun was supposed to move around the earth, we are brought back to the original symbolism with which we commenced, that the lodge is a symbol of the world.


XXII.--The Rite of Intrusting, and the Symbolism of Light.


The rite of intrusting, to which we are now to direct our attention, will supply us with many important and interesting symbols.


There is an important period in the ceremony of Masonic initiation, when the candidate is about to receive a full communication of the mysteries through which he has passed and to which the trials and labors which he has undergone can only entitle him. This ceremony is technically called the "rite of intrusting," because it is then that the aspirant begins to be intrusted with that for the possession of which he was seeking. [Dr. Oliver, referring to the "twelve grand points in Masonry," which formed a part of the old English lectures, says, "When the candidate was intrusted, he represented Asher, for he was then presented with the glorious fruit of Masonic knowledge, as Asher was represented by fatness and royal dainties."—Hist. Landm., vol. i. lect. xi. p. 313.]


It is equivalent to what, in the ancient Mysteries, was called the "autopsy," or the seeing of what only the initiated were permitted to behold.[ From the Greek αὐτοψία, signifying a seeing with ones own eyes. The candidate, who had previously been called a mystes, or a blind man, from μίω, to shut the eyes, began at this point to change his title to that of an epopt, or an eye-witness.]


This rite of intrusting is, of course, divided into several parts or periods, for the aporreta, or secret things of Masonry, are not to be given at once, but in gradual progression. It begins, however, with the communication of Light, which, although but a preparation for the development of the mysteries which are to follow, must be considered as one of the most important symbols in the whole science of Masonic symbolism. So important, indeed is it and so much does it pervade with its influence and its relations the whole Masonic system, that Freemasonry itself anciently received, among other appellations, that of Lux, or Light, to signify that it is to be regarded as that sublime doctrine of Divine Truth by which the path of him, who has attained it is to be illuminated in his pilgrimage of life.  

The Hebrew cosmogonist commences his description of the creation by the declaration that "God said, Let there be light, and there was light", a phrase which, in the more emphatic form that it has received in the original language of "Be light, and light was,” [ יהי אדך ויהי אדך Yehi aur va yehi aur.] is said to have won the praise, for its sublimity, of the greatest of Grecian critics. "The singularly emphatic summons," says a profound modern writer, "by which light is called into existence, is probably owing to the preeminent utility and glory of that element, together with its mysterious nature, which made it seem as , 'The God of this new world,' and won for it the earliest adoration of mankind."[ Robert William Mackay, Progress of the Intellect, vol. i. p. 93.]

Light was, in accordance with this old religious sentiment, the great object of attainment in all the ancient religious Mysteries. It was there, as it is now, in Masonry, made the symbol of truth and knowledge. This was always its ancient symbolism and we must never lose sight of this emblematic meaning, when we are considering the nature and signification of Masonic light. When the candidate makes a demand for light, it is not merely for that material light which is to remove a physical darkness; that is only the outward form, which conceals the inward symbolism. He craves an intellectual illumination which will dispel the darkness of mental and moral ignorance, and bring to his view, as an eye-witness, the sublime truths of religion, philosophy, and science, which it is the great design of Freemasonry to teach.


In all the ancient systems this reverence for light, as the symbol of truth, was predominant. In the Mysteries of every nation, the candidate was made to pass, during his initiation, through scenes of utter darkness and at length terminated his trials by an admission to the splendidly-illuminated sacellum, or sanctuary, where he was said to have attained pure and perfect light, and where he received the necessary instructions which were to invest him with that knowledge of the divine truth which it had been the object of all his labors to gain, and the design of the institution, into which he had been initiated, to bestow.


Light, therefore, became synonymous with truth and knowledge, and darkness with falsehood and ignorance. We shall find this symbolism pervading not only the institutions, but the very languages, of antiquity.


Thus, among the Hebrews, the word AUR, in the singular, signified light, but in the plural, AURIM, it denoted the revelation of the divine will; and the aurim and thummim, literally the lights and truths, constituted a part of the breastplate whence the high priest obtained oracular responses to the questions which he proposed.

["And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim."—Exod. xxviii. 30.—The Egyptian judges also wore breastplates, on which was represented the figure of Ra, the sun, and Thme, the goddess of Truth, representing, says Gliddon, "Ra, or the sun, in a double capacity—physical and intellectual light; and Thme, in a double capacity—justice and truth."—Ancient Egypt, p. 33.]  

There is a peculiarity about the word "light," in the old Egyptian language, which is well worth consideration in this connection. Among the Egyptians, the hare was the hieroglyphic of eyes that are open; and it was adopted because that timid animal was supposed never to close his organs of vision, being always on the watch for his enemies. The hare was afterwards adopted by the priests as a symbol of the mental illumination or mystic light which was revealed to the neophytes, in the contemplation of divine truth, during the progress of their initiation and hence, according to Champollion, the hare was also the symbol of Osiris, their chief god; thus showing the intimate connection which they believed to exist between the process of initiation into their sacred rites and the contemplation of the divine nature. But the Hebrew word for hare is ARNaBeT. Now, this is compounded of the two words AUR, light, and NaBaT, to behold, and therefore the word which in the Egyptian denoted initiation, in the Hebrew signified to behold the light. In two nations so intimately connected in history as the Hebrew and the Egyptian, such a coincidence could not have been accidental. It shows the prevalence of the sentiment, at that period, that the communication of light was the prominent design of the Mysteries—so prominent that the one was made the synonyme of the other.   [ We owe this interesting discovery to F. Portal, who has given it in his elaborate work on Egyptian symbols as compared with those of the Hebrews. To those who cannot consult the original work in French, I can safely recommend the excellent translation by my esteemed friend, Bro. John W. Simons, of New York, and which will be found in the thirtieth volume of the "Universal Masonic ]  

The worship of light, either in its pure essence or in the forms of sun worship and fire worship, because the sun and the fire were causes of light, was among the earliest and most universal superstitions of the world. Light was considered as the primordial source of all that was holy and intelligent and darkness, as its opposite, was viewed as but another name for evil and ignorance. Dr. Beard, in an article on this subject, in Kitto's Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature, attributes this view of the divine nature of light, which was entertained by the nations of the East, to the fact that, in that part of the world, light "has a clearness and brilliancy, is accompanied by an intensity of heat and is followed in its influence by a largeness of good, of which the inhabitants of less genial climates have no conception. Light easily and naturally became, in consequence, with Orientals, a representative of the highest human good. All the more joyous emotions of the mind, all the pleasing sensations of the frame, all the happy hours of domestic intercourse, were described under imagery derived from light. The transition was natural, from earthly to heavenly, from corporeal to spiritual things and so light came to typify true religion and the felicity which it imparts. But as light not only came from God, but also makes man's way clear before him, so it was employed to signify moral truth, and preeminently that divine system of truth, which is set forth in the Bible, from its earliest gleamings onward to the perfect day of the Great Sun of Righteousness."  

I am inclined to believe that in this passage the learned author has erred, not in the definition of the symbol, but in his deduction of its origin. Light became the object of religious veneration, not because of the brilliancy and clearness of a particular sky, nor the warmth and genial influence of a particular climate, for the worship was universal, in Scandinavia as in India, but because it was the natural and inevitable result of the worship of the sun, the chief deity of Sabianism, a faith, which pervaded to an extraordinary extent the whole religious sentiment of antiquity. [ "The most early defection to Idolatry," says Bryant, "consisted in the adoration of the sun and the worship of demons, styled Baalim."—Analysts of Anc. Mythol. vol. iii. p. 431.]

Light was venerated because it was an emanation from the sun and in the materialism of the ancient faith, light and darkness were both personified as positive existences, the one being the enemy of the other. Two principles were thus supposed to reign over the world, antagonistic to each other, and each alternately presiding over the destinies of mankind. [The remarks of Mr. Duncan on this subject are well worth perusal. "Light has always formed one of the primary objects of heathen adoration. The glorious spectacle of animated nature would lose all its interest if man were deprived of vision, and light extinguished; for that which is unseen and unknown becomes, for all practical purposes, as valueless as if it were non-existent. Light is a source of positive happiness; without it, man could barely exist; and since all religious opinion is based on the ideas of pleasure and pain, and the corresponding sensations of hope and fear, it is not to be wondered if the heathen reverenced light. Darkness, on the contrary, by replunging nature, as it were, into a state of nothingness, and depriving man of the pleasurable emotions conveyed through the organ of sight, was ever held in abhorrence, as a source of misery and fear. The two opposite conditions in which man thus found himself placed, occasioned by the enjoyment or the banishment of light, induced him to imagine the existence of two antagonist principles in nature, to whose dominion he was alternately subject. Light multiplied his enjoyments, and darkness diminished them. The former, accordingly, became his friend, and the latter his enemy. The words 'light' and 'good,' and 'darkness' and 'evil,' conveyed similar ideas, and became, in sacred language, synonymous terms. But as good and evil were not supposed to flow from one and the same source, no more than light and darkness were supposed to have a common origin, two distinct and independent principles were established, totally different in their nature, of opposite characters, pursuing a conflicting line of action, and creating antagonistic effects. Such was the origin of this famous dogma, recognized by all the heathens, and incorporated with all the sacred fables, cosmogonies, and mysteries of antiquity."—The Religions of Profane Antiquity, p. 186.]

The contests between the good and evil principle, symbolized by light and darkness, composed a very large part of the ancient mythology in all countries.


Among the Egyptians, Osiris was light, or the sun and his arch enemy, Typhon, who ultimately destroyed him, was the representative of darkness.


Zoroaster, the father of the ancient Persian religion, taught the same doctrine and called the principle of light, or good, Ormuzd and the principle of darkness, or evil, Ahriman. The former, born of the purest light and the latter, sprung from utter darkness, are, in this mythology, continually making war on each other.


Manes, or Manichaeus, the founder of the sect of Manichees, in the third century, taught that there are two principles from which all things proceed, the one is a pure and subtle matter, called Light, and the other a gross and corrupt substance, called Darkness. Each of these is subject to the dominion of a superintending being, whose existence is from all eternity. The being, who presides over the light is called God; he that rules over the darkness is called Hyle, or Demon. The ruler of the light is supremely happy, good, and benevolent, while the ruler over darkness is unhappy, evil, and malignant.


Pythagoras also maintained this doctrine of two antagonistic principles. He called the one, unity, light, the right hand, equality, stability and a straight line; the other he named binary, darkness, the left hand, inequality, instability, and a curved line. Of the colors, he attributed white to the good principle, and black to the evil one.


The Cabalists gave a prominent place to light in their system of cosmogony. They taught that, before the creation of the world, all space was filled with what they called Aur en soph, or the Eternal Light, and that when the Divine Mind determined or willed the production of Nature, the Eternal Light withdrew to a central point, leaving around it an empty space, in which the process of creation went on by means of emanations from the central mass of light. It is unnecessary to enter into the Cabalistic account of creation, it is sufficient here to remark that all was done through the mediate influence of the Aur en soph, or eternal light, which produces coarse matter, but one degree above nonentity, only when it becomes so attenuated as to be lost in darkness.


The Brahminical doctrine was, that "light and darkness are esteemed the world's eternal ways. He who walketh in the former returneth not, that is to say, he goeth to eternal bliss; whilst he who walketh in the latter cometh back again upon earth," and is thus destined to pass through further transmigrations, until his soul is perfectly purified by light.

[ See the "Bhagvat Geeta," one of the religious books of Brahminism. A writer in Blackwood, in an article on the "Castes and Creeds of India," vol. lxxxi. p. 316, thus accounts for the adoration of light by the early nations of the world: "Can we wonder at the worship of light by those early nations? Carry our thoughts back to their remote times, and our only wonder would be if they did not so adore it. The sun is life as well as light to all that is on the earth—as we of the present day know even better than they of old. Moving in dazzling radiance or brilliant-hued pageantry through the sky, scanning in calm royalty all that passes below, it seems the very god of this fair world, which lives and blooms but in his smile."]


In all the ancient systems of initiation the candidate was shrouded in darkness, as a preparation for the reception of light. The duration varied in the different rites. In the Celtic Mysteries of Druidism, the period in which the aspirant was immersed in darkness was nine days and nights; among the Greeks, at Eleusis, it was three times as long; and in the still severer rites of Mithras, in Persia, fifty days of darkness, solitude, and fasting were imposed upon the adventurous neophyte, who, by these excessive trials, was at length entitled to the full communication of the light of knowledge.


Thus it will be perceived that the religious sentiment of a good and an evil principle gave to darkness, in the ancient symbolism, a place equally as prominent as that of light. The same religious sentiment of the ancients, modified, however, in its details, by our better knowledge of divine things, has supplied Freemasonry with a double symbolism—that of Light and Darkness.


Darkness is the symbol of initiation. It is intended to remind the candidate of his ignorance, which Masonry is to enlighten, of his evil nature, which Masonry is to purify; of the world, in whose obscurity he has been wandering and from which Masonry is to rescue him.


Light, on the other hand, is the symbol of the autopsy, the sight of the mysteries, the intrusting, the full fruition of Masonic truth and knowledge.

Initiation precedes the communication of knowledge in Masonry, as darkness preceded light in the old cosmogonies. Thus, in Genesis, we see that in the beginning "the world was without form, and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep." The Chaldean cosmogony taught that in the beginning "all was darkness and water." The Phoenicians supposed that "the beginning of all things was a wind of black air, and a chaos dark as Erebus.” [ The Institutes of Manu, which are the acknowledged code of the Brahmins, inform us that "the world was all darkness, undiscernible, undistinguishable altogether, as in a profound sleep, till the self-existent, invisible God, making it manifest with five elements and other glorious forms, perfectly dispelled the gloom."—Sir WILLIAM JONES, On the Gods of Greece. Asiatic Researches, i. 244.]

But out of all this darkness sprang forth light, at the divine command and the sublime phrase, "Let there be light," is repeated, in some substantially identical form, in all the ancient histories of creation.

So, too, out of the mysterious darkness of Masonry comes the full blaze of Masonic light. One must precede the other, as the evening preceded the morning. "So the evening and the morning were the first day."  This thought is preserved in the great motto of the Order, "Lux e tenebris" Light out of darkness. It is equivalent to this other sentence. Truth out of initiation. Lux, or light, is truth; tenebrae, or darkness, is initiation.  It is a beautiful and instructive portion of our symbolism, this connection of darkness and light, and well deserves a further investigation.

[Among the Rosicrucians, who have, by some, been improperly confounded with the Freemasons, the word lux was used to signify a knowledge of the philosopher's stone, or the great desideratum of a universal elixir and a universal menstruum. This was their truth].


"Genesis and the cosmogonies," says Portal, "mention the antagonism of light and darkness. The form of this fable varies according to each nation, but the foundation is everywhere the same. Under the symbol of the creation of the world it presents the picture of regeneration and initiation.” [On Symbolic Colors, p. 23, Inman's translation.]


Plutarch says that to die is to be initiated into the greater Mysteries and the Greek word τελευτᾷν, which signifies to die, means also to be initiated. But black, which is the symbolic color of darkness, is also the symbol of death. And hence, again, darkness, like death, is the symbol of initiation. It was for this reason that all the ancient initiations were performed at night. The celebration of the Mysteries was always nocturnal. The same custom prevails in Freemasonry, and the explanation is the same. Death and the resurrection were taught in the Mysteries, as they are in Freemasonry. The initiation was the lesson of death. The full fruition or autopsy, the reception of light, was the lesson of regeneration or resurrection.  

Light is, therefore, a fundamental symbol in Freemasonry. It is, in fact, the first important symbol that is presented to the neophyte in his instructions, and contains within itself the very essence of Speculative Masonry, which is nothing more than the contemplation of intellectual light or truth. [Freemasonry having received the name of lux, or light, its disciples have, very appropriately, been called "the Sons of Light." Thus Burns, in his celebrated Farewell,

"Oft have I met your social band,
And spent the cheerful, festive night;
Oft, honored with supreme command,
Presided o'er the sons of light."



XXIII --Symbolism of the Corner-Stone.


We come next, in a due order of precedence, to the consideration of the symbolism connected with an important ceremony in the ritual of the first degree of Masonry, which refers to the north-east corner of the lodge. In this ceremony the candidate becomes the representative of a spiritual corner-stone. And hence, to thoroughly comprehend the true meaning of the emblematic ceremony, it is essential that we should investigate the symbolism of the corner-stone. The corner-stone, as the foundation on which the entire building is supposed to rest, is, of course, the most important stone in the whole edifice. [Thus defined: "The stone which lies at the corner of two walls, and unites them; the principal stone, and especially the stone which forms the corner of the foundation of an edifice."—Webster.]

It is, at least, so considered by operative masons. It is laid with impressive ceremonies. The assistance of speculative masons is often, and always ought to be, invited, to give dignity to the occasion and the event is viewed by the workmen as an important era in the construction of the edifice. [ Among the ancients the corner stone of important edifices was laid with impressive ceremonies. These are well described by Tacitus, in his history of the rebuilding of the Capitol. After detailing the preliminary ceremonies which consisted in a procession of vestals, who with chaplets of flowers encompassed the ground and consecrated it by libations of living water, he adds that, after solemn prayer, Helvidius, to whom the care of rebuilding the Capitol had been committed, "laid his hand upon the fillets that adorned the foundation stone, and also the cords by which it was to be drawn to its place. In that instant the magistrates, the priests, the senators, the Roman knights, and a number of citizens, all acting with one effort and general demonstrations of joy, laid hold of the ropes and dragged the ponderous load to its destined spot. They then threw in ingots of gold and silver, and other metals, which had never been melted in the furnace, but still retained, untouched by human art, their first formation in the bowels of the earth."-- Tac. Hist., 1. iv. c. 53, Murphy's transl.]

In the rich imagery of Orientalism, the corner stone is frequently referred to as the appropriate symbol of a chief or prince ,who is the defence and bulwark of his people and more particularly in Scripture, as denoting that promised Messiah, who was to be the sure prop and support of all who should put their trust in his divine mission. [As, for instance, in Psalm cxviii. 22, "The stone which the builders refused is become the head-stone of the corner," which, Clarke says, "seems to have been originally spoken of David, who was at first rejected by the Jewish rulers, but was afterwards chosen by the Lord to be the great ruler of his people in Israel;" and in Isaiah xxviii. 16, "Behold, I lay in Zion, for a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation," which clearly refers to the promised Messiah.]

To the various properties that are necessary to constitute a true corner stone, its firmness and durability, its perfect form and its peculiar position as the connecting link between the walls, we must attribute the important character that it has assumed in the language of symbolism. Freemasonry, which alone, of all existing institutions, has preserved this ancient and universal language, could not, as it may well be supposed, have neglected to adopt the corner stone among its most cherished and impressive symbols and hence it has referred to it many of its most significant lessons of morality and truth.


I have already alluded to that peculiar mode of Masonic symbolism by which the speculative mason is supposed to be engaged in the construction of a spiritual temple, in imitation of, or, rather, in reference to, that material one, which was erected by his operative predecessors at Jerusalem. Let us again, for a few moments, direct our attention to this important fact, and revert to the connection, which originally existed between the operative and speculative divisions of Freemasonry. This is an essential introduction to any inquiry into the symbolism of the corner stone.


The difference between operative and speculative Masonry is simply this, that while the former was engaged in the construction of a material temple, formed, it is true, of the most magnificent materials which the quarries of Palestine, the mountains of Lebanon and the golden shores of Ophir could contribute, the latter occupies itself in the erection of a spiritual house, a house not made with hands, in which, for stones and cedar and gold and precious stones, are substituted the virtues of the heart, the pure emotions of the soul, the warm affections gushing forth from the hidden fountains of the spirit, so that the very presence of Jehovah, our Father and our God, shall be enshrined within us as his Shekinah was in the holy of holies of the material temple at Jerusalem.


The Speculative Mason, then, if he rightly comprehends the scope and design of his profession, is occupied, from his very first admission into the order until the close of his labors and his life and the true mason's labor ends only with his life, in the construction, the adornment and the completion of this spiritual temple of his body. He lays its foundation in a firm belief and an unshaken confidence in the wisdom, power, and goodness of God. This is his first step. Unless his trust is in God, and in him only, he can advance no further than the threshold of initiation. And then he prepares his materials with the gauge and gavel of Truth, raises the walls by the plumb line of Rectitude, squares his work with the square of Virtue, connects the whole with the cement of  Brotherly Love and thus skillfully erects the living edifice of thoughts, and words, and deeds, in accordance with the designs laid down by the Master Architect of the universe in the great Book of Revelation.


The aspirant for Masonic light the Neophyte on his first entrance within our sacred porch, prepares himself for this consecrated labor of erecting within his own bosom, a fit dwelling place for the Divine Spirit and thus commences the noble work by becoming himself the corner stone on which this spiritual edifice is to be erected.


Here, then, is the beginning of the symbolism of the corner stone and it is singularly curious to observe how every portion of the archetype has been made to perform its appropriate duty in thoroughly carrying out the emblematic allusions.  

As, for example, this symbolic reference of the corner stone of a material edifice to a mason, when, at his first initiation, he commences the intellectual task of erecting a spiritual temple in his heart, is beautifully sustained in the allusions to all the various parts and qualities, which are to be found in a "well-formed, true and trusty" corner stone. Its form and substance are both seized by the comprehensive grasp of the symbolic science. [In the ritual "observed at laying the foundation-stone of public structures," it is said, "The principal architect then presents the working tools to the Grand Master, who applies the plumb, square, and level to the stone, in their proper positions and pronounces it to be well-formed, true, and trusty."—WEBB'S Monitor, p. 120.]  

Let us trace this symbolism in its minute details. And, first, as to the form of the corner stone.

The corner stone of an edifice must be perfectly square on its surfaces, lest, by a violation of this true geometric figure, the walls to be erected upon it should deviate from the required line of perpendicularity, which can alone give strength and proportion to the building. Perfectly square on its surfaces, it is, in its form and solid contents, a cube. Now, the square and the cube are both important and significant symbols. The square is an emblem of morality, or the strict performance of every duty. ["The square teaches us to regulate our conduct by the principles of morality and virtue."—Ritual of the E. A. Degree.—The old York lectures define the square thus: "The square is the theory of universal duty, and consisteth in two right lines, forming an angle of perfect sincerity, or ninety degrees; the longest side is the sum of the lengths of the several duties which we owe to all men. And every man should be agreeable to this square, when perfectly finished."]

Among the Greeks, who were a highly poetical and imaginative people, the square was deemed a figure of perfection, and the ἀνὴρ τετράγωνος—"the square or cubical man," as the words may be translated, was a term used to designate a man of unsullied integrity. Hence, one of their most eminent metaphysicians has said that "he who valiantly sustains the shocks of adverse fortune, demeaning himself uprightly, is truly good and of a square posture, without reproof; and he who would assume such a square posture should often subject himself to the perfectly square test of justice and integrity." [Aristotle.]

The cube, in the language of symbolism, denotes truth. ["The cube is a symbol of truth, of wisdom, and moral perfection. The new Jerusalem, promised in the Apocalypse, is equal in length, breadth, and height. The Mystical city ought to be considered as a new church, where divine wisdom will reign."—OLIVER'S Landmarks, ii. p. 357. And he might have added, where eternal truth will be present.]

Among the pagan mythologists, Mercury, or Hermes, was always represented by a cubical stone, because he was the type of truth, and the same form was adopted by the Israelites in the construction of the tabernacle, which was to be the dwelling-place of divine truth. [In the most primitive times, all the gods appear to have been represented by cubical blocks of stone; and Pausanias says that he saw thirty of these stones in the city of Pharae, which represented as many deities. The first of the kind, it is probable, were dedicated to Hermes, whence they derived their name of "Hermae."]

And, then, as to its material. This, too, is an essential element of all symbolism. Constructed of a material finer and more polished than that which constitutes the remainder of the edifice, often carved with appropriate devices and fitted for its distinguished purpose by the utmost skill of the sculptor's art, it becomes the symbol of that beauty of holiness with which the Hebrew Psalmist has said that we are to worship Jehovah. ["Give unto Jehovah the glory due unto His name; worship Jehovah in the beauty of holiness."—Psalm xxix. 2.]

The ceremony, then, of the north east corner of the lodge, since it derives all its typical value from this symbolism of the corner stone, was undoubtedly intended to portray, in this consecrated language, the necessity of integrity and stability of conduct, of truthfulness and uprightness of character and of purity and holiness of life, which, just at that time and in that place, the candidate is most impressively charged to maintain.

But there is also a symbolism about the position of the corner stone, which is well worthy of attention. It is familiar to every one, even to those who are without the pale of initiation, that the custom of laying the corner stones of public buildings has always been performed by the Masonic order with peculiar and impressive ceremonies and that this stone is invariably deposited in the north east corner of the foundation of the intended structure. Now, the question naturally suggests itself, whence does this ancient and invariable usage derive its origin? Why may not the stone be deposited in any other corner or portion of the edifice, as convenience or necessity may dictate? The custom of placing the foundation stone in the north east corner must have been originally adopted for some good and sufficient reason; for we have a right to suppose that it was not an arbitrary selection. [ It is at least a singular coincidence that in the Brahminical religion great respect was paid to the north east point of the heavens. Thus it is said in the Institutes of Manu, "If he has any incurable disease, let him advance in a straight path towards the invincible north east point, feeding on water and air till his mortal frame totally decay and his soul become united with the Supreme."]  

Was it in reference to the ceremony which takes place in the lodge? Or is that in reference to the position of the material stone? No matter which has the precedence in point of time, the principle is the same. The position of the stone in the north east corner of the building is altogether symbolic and the symbolism exclusively alludes to certain doctrines which are taught in the speculative science of Masonry.

The interpretation, I conceive, is briefly this. Every Speculative Mason is familiar with the fact that the east, as the source of material light, is a symbol of his own order, which professes to contain within its bosom the pure light of truth. As, in the physical world, the morning of each day is ushered into existence by the reddening dawn of the eastern sky, whence the rising sun dispenses his illuminating and prolific rays to every portion of the visible horizon, warming the whole earth with his embrace of light, and giving new born life and energy to flower and tree and beast and man, who, at the magic touch, awake from the sleep of darkness, so in the moral world, when intellectual night was, in the earliest days, brooding over the world, it was from the ancient priesthood living in the east that those lessons of God, of nature, and of humanity first emanated, which, travelling westward, revealed to man his future destiny, and his dependence on a superior power. Thus every new and true doctrine, coming from these "wise men of the east," was, as it were, a new day arising and dissipating the clouds of intellectual darkness and error. It was a universal opinion among the ancients that the first learning came from the east and the often quoted line of  Bishop Berkeley, that,

"Westward the course of empire takes its way"

is  but the modern utterance of an ancient thought, for it was always believed that the empire of truth and knowledge was advancing from the east to the west.


Again, the north, as the point in the horizon, which is most remote from the vivifying rays of the sun, when at his meridian height, has, with equal metaphorical propriety, been called the place of darkness and is, therefore, symbolic of the profane world, which has not yet been penetrated and illumined by the intellectual rays of Masonic light. All history concurs in recording the fact that, in the early ages of the world, its northern portion was enveloped in the most profound moral and mental darkness. It was from the remotest regions of Northern Europe that those barbarian hordes "came down like the wolf on the fold," and devastated the fair plains of the south, bringing with them a dark curtain of ignorance, beneath whose heavy folds the nations of the world lay for centuries overwhelmed. The extreme north has ever been, physically and intellectually, cold, and dark, and dreary. Hence, in Masonry, the north has ever been esteemed the place of darkness; and, in obedience to this principle, no symbolic light is allowed to illumine the northern part of the lodge.   The east, then, is, in Masonry, the symbol of the order, and the north the symbol of the profane world.


Now, the spiritual corner stone is deposited in the north east corner of the lodge, because it is symbolic of the position of the neophyte, or candidate, who represents it in his relation to the order and to the world. From the profane world he has just emerged. Some of its imperfections are still upon him. Some of its darkness is still about him. He as yet belongs in part to the north. But he is striving for light and truth, the pathway upon which he has entered is directed towards the east. His allegiance, if I may use the word, is divided. He is not altogether a profane, nor altogether a mason. If he were wholly in the world, the north would be the place to find him, the north, which is the reign of darkness. If he were wholly in the order, a Master Mason, the east would have received him, the east, which is the place of light. But he is neither; he is an Apprentice, with some of the ignorance of the world cleaving to him, and some of the light of the order beaming upon him. And hence this divided allegiance, this double character, this mingling of the departing darkness of the north with the approaching brightness of the east is well expressed, in our symbolism, by the appropriate position of the spiritual corner stone in the north east corner of the lodge. One surface of the stone faces the north and the other surface faces the east. It is neither wholly in the one part nor wholly in the other, and in so far it is a symbol of initiation not fully developed, that which is incomplete and imperfect, and is, therefore, fitly represented by the recipient of the first degree, at the very moment of his initiation. [This symbolism of the double position of the corner stone has not escaped the attention of the religious symbologists. Etsius, an early commentator, in 1682, referring to the passage in Ephesians ii. 20, says, "That is called the corner-stone, or chief corner-stone, which is placed in the extreme angle of a foundation, conjoining and holding together two walls of the pile, meeting from different quarters. And the apostle not only would be understood by this metaphor that Christ is the principal foundation of the whole church, but also that in him, as in a corner-stone, the two peoples, Jews and Gentiles, are conjoined, and so conjoined as to rise together into one edifice, and become one church." And Julius Firmicius, who wrote in the sixteenth century, says that Christ is called the corner-stone, because, being placed in the angle of the two walls, which are the Old and the New Testament, he collects the nations into one fold. "Lapis sanctus, i.e. Christus, aut fidei fundamenta sustentat aut in angulo positus duorum parietum membra aequata moderatione conjungit, i.e., Veteris et Novi Testamenti in unum colligit gentes."—De Errore profan. Religionum, chap. xxi.]  

But the strength and durability of the corner stone are also eminently suggestive of symbolic ideas. To fulfill its design as the foundation and support of the massive building, whose erection it precedes, it should be constructed of a material which may outlast all other parts of the edifice, so that when that "eternal ocean whose waves are years" shall have engulfed all who were present at the construction of the building in the vast vortex of its ever flowing current and when generation after generation shall have passed away and the crumbling stones of the ruined edifice shall begin to attest the power of time and the evanescent nature of all human undertakings, the corner stone will still remain to tell, by its inscriptions and its form and its beauty, to every passer by, that there once existed in that, perhaps then desolate, spot, a building consecrated to some noble or some sacred purpose by the zeal and liberality of men who now no longer live.

So, too, do this permanence and durability of the corner stone, in contrast with the decay and ruin of the building in whose foundations it was placed, remind the mason, that when this earthly house of his tabernacle shall have passed away, he has within him a sure foundation of eternal life, a corner stone of immortality, an emanation from that Divine Spirit which pervades all nature and which, therefore, must survive the tomb and rise, triumphant and eternal, above the decaying dust of death and the grave. 

[This permanence of position was also attributed to those cubical stones among the Romans which represented the statues of the god Terminus. They could never lawfully be removed from the spot which they occupied. Hence, when Tarquin was about to build the temple of Jupiter, on the Capitoline Hill, all the shrines and statues of the other gods were removed from the eminence to make way for the new edifice, except that of Terminus, represented by a stone. This remained untouched, and was enclosed within the temple, to show, says Dudley, "that the stone, having been a personification of the God Supreme, could not be reasonably required to yield to Jupiter himself in dignity and power."—DUDLEY'S Naology, p 145.]  

It is in this way that the student of Masonic symbolism is reminded by the corner stone, by its form, its position, and its permanence of significant doctrines of duty and virtue, and religious truth, which it is the great object of Masonry to teach.


But I have said that the material corner stone is deposited in its appropriate place with solemn rites and ceremonies, for which the order has established a peculiar ritual. These, too, have a beautiful and significant symbolism, the investigation of which will next attract our attention. And here it may be observed, in passing, that the accompaniment of such an act of consecration to a particular purpose, with solemn rites and ceremonies, claims our respect, from the prestige that it has of all antiquity. A learned writer on symbolism makes, on this subject, the following judicious remarks, which may be quoted as a sufficient defence of our Masonic ceremonies,

"It has been an opinion, entertained in all past ages, that by the performance of certain acts, things, places, and persons acquire a character, which they would not have had without such performances. The reason is plain. Certain acts signify firmness of purpose, which, by consigning the object to the intended use, gives it, in the public opinion, an accordant character. This is most especially true of things, places, and persons connected with religion and religious worship. After the performance of certain acts or rites, they are held to be altogether different from what they were before, they acquire a sacred character, and in some instances a character absolutely divine. Such are the effects imagined to be produced by religious dedication.”    [Dudley's Naology, p. 476]

The stone, therefore, thus properly constructed, is, when it is to be deposited by the constituted authorities of our order, carefully examined with the necessary implements of operative masonry, the square, the level, and the plumb and declared to be "well formed, true, and trusty." This is not a vain nor unmeaning ceremony. It teaches the mason that his virtues are to be tested by temptation and trial, by suffering and adversity, before they can be pronounced by the Master Builder of Souls to be materials worthy of the spiritual building of eternal life, fitted "as living stones, for that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." But if he be faithful, and withstand these trials, if he shall come forth from these temptations and sufferings like pure gold from the refiner's fire, then, indeed, shall he be deemed "well-formed, true, and trusty," and worthy to offer "unto the Lord an offering in righteousness."


In the ceremony of depositing the corner stone, the sacred elements of Masonic consecration are then produced, and the stone is solemnly set apart by pouring corn, wine and oil upon its surface. Each of these elements has a beautiful significance in our symbolism. Collectively, they allude to the Corn of Nourishment, the Wine of Refreshment, and the Oil of Joy, which are the promised rewards of a faithful and diligent performance of duty, and often specifically refer to the anticipated success of the undertaking whose incipiency they have consecrated. They are, in fact, types and symbols of all those abundant gifts of Divine Providence for which we are daily called upon to make an offering of our thanks, and which are enumerated by King David, in his catalogue of blessings, as "wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart."


"Wherefore, my brethren," says Harris, "do you carry corn, wine, and oil in your processions, but to remind you that in the pilgrimage of human life you are to impart a portion of your bread to feed the hungry, to send a cup of your wine to cheer the sorrowful and to pour the healing oil of your consolation into the wounds, which sickness hath made in the bodies, or affliction rent in the hearts, of your fellow-travellers?” [Masonic Discourses, Dis. iv. p. 81]


But, individually, each of these elements of consecration has also an appropriate significance, which is well worth investigation.


Corn, in the language of Scripture, is an emblem of the resurrection and St. Paul, in that eloquent discourse which is so familiar to all, as a beautiful argument for the great Christian doctrine of a future life, adduces the seed of grain, which, being sown, first dieth, and then quickeneth, as the appropriate type of that corruptible which must put on incorruption and of that mortal, which must assume immortality. But, in Masonry, the sprig of acacia, for reasons purely Masonic, has been always adopted as the symbol of immortality and the ear of corn is appropriated as the symbol of plenty. This is in accordance with the Hebrew derivation of the word, as well as with the usage of all ancient nations. The word dagan, דנו which signifies corn, is derived from the verb dagah, דנה, to increase, to multiply, and in all the ancient religions the horn or vase, filled with fruits and with grain, was the recognized symbol of plenty. Hence, as an element of consecration, corn is intended to remind us of those temporal blessings of life and health, and comfortable support, which we derive from the Giver of all good, and to merit which we should strive, with "clean hands and a pure heart," to erect on the corner-stone of our initiation a spiritual temple, which shall be adorned with the "beauty of holiness."


Wine is a symbol of that inward and abiding comfort with which the heart of the man who faithfully performs his part on the great stage of life is to be refreshed; and as, in the figurative language of the East, Jacob prophetically promises to Judah, as his reward, that he shall wash his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of the grape, it seems intended, morally, to remind us of those immortal refreshments which, when the labors of this earthly lodge are forever closed, we shall receive in the celestial lodge above, where the G.A.O.T.U. forever presides.  

Oil is a symbol of prosperity, and happiness, and joy. The custom of anointing every thing or person destined for a sacred purpose is of venerable antiquity. The statues of the heathen deities, as well as the altars on which the sacrifices were offered to them, and the priests who presided over the sacred rites, were always anointed with perfumed ointment, as a consecration of them to the objects of religious worship. ["The act of consecration chiefly consisted in the unction, which was a ceremony derived from the most primitive antiquity. The sacred tabernacle, with all the vessels and utensils, as also the altar and the priests themselves, were consecrated in this manner by Moses, at the divine command. It is well known that the Jewish kings and prophets were admitted to their several offices by unction. The patriarch Jacob, by the same right, consecrated the altars which he made use of; in doing which it is more probable that he followed the tradition of his forefathers, than that he was the author of this custom. The same, or something like it, was also continued down to the times of Christianity."—POTTER'S Archaeologia Graeca, b. ii. p. 176.]  

When Jacob set up the stone on which he had slept in his journey to Padan-aram, and where he was blessed with the vision of ascending and descending angels, he anointed it with oil, and thus consecrated it as an altar to God. Such an inunction was, in ancient times, as it still continues to be in many modern countries and contemporary religions, a symbol of the setting apart of the thing or person so anointed and consecrated to a holy purpose.


Hence, then, we are reminded by this last impressive ceremony, that the cultivation of virtue, the practice of duty, the resistance of temptation, the submission to suffering, the devotion to truth, the maintenance of integrity, and all those other graces by which we strive to fit our bodies, as living stones, for the spiritual building of eternal life, must, after all, to make the object effectual and the labor successful, be consecrated by a holy obedience to God's will and a firm reliance on God's providence, which alone constitute the chief corner stone and sure foundation, on which any man can build with the reasonable hope of a prosperous issue to his work.


It may be noticed, in concluding this topic, that the corner  stone seems to be peculiarly a Jewish symbol. I can find no reference to it in any of the ancient pagan rites, and the EBEN PINAH, the corner stone, which is so frequently mentioned in Scripture as the emblem of an important personage and most usually, in the Old Testament, of the expected Messiah, appears, in its use in Masonry, to have had, unlike almost every other symbol of the order, an exclusively temple origin.


XXIV.--The Ineffable Name.


Another important symbol is the Ineffable Name, with which the series of ritualistic symbols will be concluded.

The Tetragrammaton, or Ineffable Word, the Incommunicable Name, is a symbol-- for rightly considered it is nothing more than a symbol, that has more than any other (except, perhaps, the symbols connected with sun-worship), pervaded the rites of antiquity. I know, indeed, of no system of ancient initiation in which it has not some prominent form and place.

[ From the Greek τετρὰς, four, and γράμμα, letter, because it is composed of four Hebrew letters. Brande thus defines it: "Among several ancient nations, the name of the mystic number four, which was often symbolized to represent the Deity, whose name was expressed by four letters." But this definition is incorrect. The tetragrammaton is not the name of the number four, but the word which expresses the name of God in four letters, and is always applied to the Hebrew word only.]


But as it was, perhaps, the earliest symbol which was corrupted by the spurious Freemasonry of the pagans, in their secession from the primitive system of the patriarchs and ancient priesthood, it will be most expedient for the thorough discussion of the subject which is proposed in the present paper, that we should begin the investigation with an inquiry into the nature of the symbol among the Israelites.  

That name of God, which we, at a venture, pronounce Jehovah, although whether this is, or is not, the true pronunciation can now never be authoritatively settled, was ever held by the Jews in the most profound veneration. They derived its origin from the immediate inspiration of the Almighty, who communicated it to Moses as his especial appellation, to be used only by his chosen people and this communication was made at the Burning Bush, when he said to him, "Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel,  Jehovah, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this [Jehovah] is my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.” [Exod. iii. 15. In our common version of the Bible, the word "Lord" is substituted for "Jehovah," whence the true import of the original is lost.]  

 And at a subsequent period he still more emphatically declared this to be his peculiar name, "I am Jehovah; and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of El Shaddai; but by my name Jehovah was I not known unto them.” [Exod. vi. 2. 3.]


It will be perceived that I have not here followed precisely the somewhat unsatisfactory version of King James's Bible, which, by translating or anglicizing one name, and not the other, leaves the whole passage less intelligible and impressive than it should be. I have retained the original Hebrew for both names. El Shaddai, "the Almighty One," was the name by which he had been heretofore known to the preceding patriarchs, in its meaning it was analogous to Elohim, who is described in the first chapter of Genesis as creating the world. But his name of Jehovah was now for the first time to be communicated to his people.


Ushered to their notice with all the solemnity and religious consecration of these scenes and events, this name of God became invested among the Israelites with the profoundest veneration and awe. To add to this mysticism, the Cabalists, by the change of a single letter, read the passage, "This is my name forever," or, as it is in the original, Zeh shemi l'olam, זה שמי לעלם as if written Zeh shemi l'alam, זה שמי לאלם that is to say, "This is my name to be concealed." This interpretation, although founded on a blunder and in all probability an intentional one, soon became a precept and has been strictly obeyed to this day.

["The Jews have many superstitious stories and opinions relative to this name, which, because they were forbidden to mention in vain, they would not mention at all. They substituted Adonai, &c., in its room, whenever it occurred to them in reading or speaking, or else simply and emphatically styled it השם the Name. Some of them attributed to a certain repetition of this name the virtue of a charm, and others have had the boldness to assert that our blessed Savior wrought all his miracles (for they do not deny them to be such) by that mystical use of this venerable name. See the Toldoth Jeschu, an infamously scurrilous life of Jesus, written by a Jew not later than the thirteenth century. On p. 7, edition of Wagenseilius, 1681, is a succinct detail of the manner in which our Savior is said to have entered the temple and obtained possession of the Holy Name. Leusden says that he had offered to give a sum of money to a very poor Jew at Amsterdam, if he would only once deliberately pronounce the name Jehovah; but he refused it by saying that he did not dare."—Horae Solitariae, vol. i. p. 3.—"A Brahmin will not pronounce the name of the Almighty, without drawing down his sleeve and placing it on his mouth with fear and trembling."—MURRAY, Truth of Revelation, p. 321.]


The word Jehovah is never pronounced by a pious Jew, who, whenever he meets with it in Scripture, substitutes for it the word Adonai or Lord,a practice which has been followed by the translators of the common English version of the Bible with almost Jewish scrupulosity, the word "Jehovah" in the original being invariably translated by the word "Lord.” [The same scrupulous avoidance of a strict translation has been pursued in other versions. For Jehovah, the Septuagint substitutes "Κύριος," the Vulgate "Dominus," and the German "der Herr," all equivalent to "the Lord." The French version uses the title "l'Eternel." But, with a better comprehension of the value of the word, Lowth in his "Isaiah," the Swedenborgian version of the Psalms, and some other recent versions, have restored the original name.]  

The pronunciation of the word, being thus abandoned, became ultimately lost, as, by the peculiar construction of the Hebrew language, which is entirely without vowels, the letters, being all consonants, can give no possible indication, to one who has not heard it before, of the true pronunciation of any given word.


To make this subject plainer to the reader who is unacquainted with the Hebrew, I will venture to furnish an explanation,  which will, perhaps, be intelligible.


The Hebrew alphabet consists entirely of consonants, the vowel sounds having always been inserted orally and never marked in writing until the "vowel points," as they are called, were invented by the Masorites, some six centuries after the Christian era. As the vowel sounds were originally supplied by the reader, while reading, from a knowledge, which he had previously received, by means of oral instruction, of the proper pronunciation of the word, he was necessarily unable to pronounce any word which had never before been uttered in his presence. As we know that Dr. is to be pronounced Doctor, and Mr. Mister, because we have always heard those peculiar combinations of letters thus enunciated and not because the letters themselves give any such sound, so the Jew knew from instruction and constant practice and not from the power of the letters, how the consonants in the different words in daily use were to be vocalized. But as the four letters which compose the word Jehovah, as we now call it, were never pronounced in his presence, but were made to represent another word, Adonai, which was substituted for it, and as the combination of these four consonants would give no more indication for any sort of enunciation than the combinations Dr. or Mr. give in our language, the Jew, being ignorant of what vocal sounds were to be supplied, was unable to pronounce the word, so that its true pronunciation was in time lost to the masses of the people.


There was one person, however, who, it is said, was in possession of the proper sound of the letters and the true pronunciation of the word. This was the high priest, who, receiving it from his predecessor, preserved the recollection of the sound by pronouncing it three times, once a year, on the day of the atonement, when he entered the holy of holies of the tabernacle or the temple.

If the traditions of Masonry on this subject are correct, the kings, after the establishment of the monarchy, must have participated in this privilege, for Solomon is said to have been in possession of the word, and to have communicated it to his two colleagues at the building of the temple. This is the word which, from the number of its letters, was called the "tetragrammaton," or four lettered name and from its sacred inviolability, the "ineffable" or unutterable name.  

The Cabalists and Talmudists have enveloped it in a host of mystical superstitions, most of which are as absurd as they are incredible, but all of them tending to show the great veneration that has always been paid to it.Thus they say that it is possessed of unlimited powers, and that he who pronounces it shakes heaven and earth, and inspires the very angels with terror and astonishment. 

[In the Talmudical treatise, Majan Hachochima, quoted by Stephelin (Rabbinical Literature, i. p. 131), we are informed that rightly to understand the shem hamphorash is a key to the unlocking of all mysteries. "There," says the treatise, "shalt thou understand the words of men, the words of cattle, the singing of birds, the language of beasts, the barking of dogs, the language of devils, the language of ministering angels, the language of date-trees, the motion of the sea, the unity of hearts, and the murmuring of the tongue—nay, even the thoughts of the reins."]  

The Rabbins called it "shem hamphorash," that is to say, "the name that is declaratory," and they say that David found it engraved on a stone while digging into the earth. From the sacredness with which the name was venerated, it was seldom, if ever, written in full, and, consequently, a great many symbols, or hieroglyphics, were invented to express it. One of these was the letter י or Yod, equivalent nearly to the English I, or J, or Y, which was the initial of the word, and it was often inscribed within an equilateral triangle, thus.

Yod inside equilateral triangle

The triangle itself being a symbol of Deity. This symbol of the name of God is peculiarly worthy of our attention, since not only is the triangle to be found in many of the ancient religions occupying the same position, but the whole symbol itself is undoubtedly the origin of that hieroglyphic exhibited in the second degree of Masonry, where, the explanation of the symbolism being the same, the form of it, as far as it respects the letter, has only been anglicized by modern innovators. In my own opinion, the letter G, which is used in the Fellow Craft's degree, should never have been permitted to intrude into Masonry. It presents an instance of absurd anachronism, which would never have occurred, if the original Hebrew symbol had been retained. But being there now, without the possibility of removal, we have only to remember that it is in fact, but the symbol of a symbol. 

[The gamma, Γ, or Greek letter G, is said to have been sacred among the Pythagoreans as the initial of Γεωμειρία or Geometry.]  

Widely spread, as I have already said, was this reverence for the name of God and, consequently, its symbolism, in some peculiar form, is to be found in all the ancient rites.


Thus the Ineffable Name itself, of which we have been discoursing, is said to have been preserved in its true pronunciation by the Essenes, who, in their secret rites, communicated it to each other only in a whisper, and in such form, that while its component parts were known, they were so separated as to make the whole word a mystery.


Among the Egyptians, whose connection with the Hebrews was more immediate than that of any other people and where, consequently, there was a greater similarity of rites, the same sacred name is said to have been used as a password, for the purpose of gaining admission to their Mysteries.


In the Brahminic Mysteries of Hindostan the ceremony of initiation was terminated by intrusting the aspirant with the sacred, triliteral name, which was AUM, the three letters of which were symbolic of the creative, preservative, and destructive principles of the Supreme Deity, personified in the three manifestations of Bramah, Siva, and Vishnu. This word was forbidden to be pronounced aloud. It was to be the subject of silent meditation to the pious Hindoo.  

In the rites of Persia an ineffable name was also communicated to the candidate, after his initiation. Mithras, the principal divinity in these rites, who took the place of the Hebrew Jehovah and represented the sun, had this peculiarity in his name—that the numeral value of the letters of which it was composed amounted to precisely 365, the number of days which constitute a revolution of the earth around the sun, or, as they then supposed, of the sun around the earth. [Vide Oliver, Hist. Init. p. 68, note.]

In the Mysteries introduced by Pythagoras into Greece we again find the ineffable name of the Hebrews, obtained doubtless by the Samian Sage during his visit to Babylon. [Jamblichus says that Pythagoras passed over from Miletus to Sidon, thinking that he could thence go more easily into Egypt, and that while there he caused himself to be initiated into all the mysteries of Byblos and Tyre, and those which were practised in many parts of Syria, not because he was under the influence of any superstitious motives, but from the fear that if he were not to avail himself of these opportunities, he might neglect to acquire some knowledge in those rites which was worthy of observation. But as these mysteries were originally received by the Phoenicians from Egypt, he passed over into that country, where he remained twenty-two years, occupying himself in the study of geometry, astronomy, and all the initiations of the gods (πάσας θεῶν τελετάς), until he was carried a captive into Babylon by the soldiers of Cambyses, and that twelve years afterwards he returned to Samos at the age of sixty years.—Vit. Pythag, cap. iii., iv.]

The symbol adopted by him to express it was, however, somewhat different, being ten points distributed in the form of a triangle, each side containing four points, as in the annexed figure.

ten points distributed in the form of a triangle

The apex of the triangle was consequently a single point then followed below two others, then three; and lastly, the base consisted of four. These points were, by the number in each rank, intended, according to the Pythagorean system, to denote respectively the monad, or active principle of nature; the duad, or passive principle; the triad, or world emanating from their union; and the quaterniad, or intellectual science; the whole number of points amounting to ten, the symbol of perfection and consummation. This figure was called by Pythagoras the tetractys—a word equivalent in signification to the tetragrammaton and it was deemed so sacred that on it the oath of secrecy and fidelity was administered to the aspirants in the Pythagorean rites. ["The sacred words were intrusted to him, of which the Ineffable Tetractys, or name of God, was the chief."—OLIVER, Hist. Init. p. 109].

Among the Scandinavians, as among the Jewish Cabalists, the Supreme God who was made known in their mysteries had twelve names, of which the principal and most sacred one was Alfader, the Universal Father.

Among the Druids, the sacred name of God was Hu , a name which, although it is supposed, by Bryant, to have been intended by them for Noah, will be recognized as one of the modifications of the Hebrew tetragrammaton.  ["Hu, the mighty, whose history as a patriarch is precisely that of Noah, was promoted to the rank of the principal demon-god among the Britons; and, as his chariot was composed of rays of the sun, it may be presumed that he was worshipped in conjunction with that luminary, and to the same superstition we may refer what is said of his light and swift course."—DAVIES, Mythol. and Rites of the Brit. Druids, p. 110.]

 It is, in fact, the masculine pronoun in Hebrew, and may be considered as the symbolization of the male or generative principle in nature, a sort of modification of the system of Phallic worship. This sacred name among the Druids reminds me of what is the latest, and undoubtedly the most philosophical, speculation on the true meaning, as well as pronunciation, of the ineffable tetragrammaton. It is from the ingenious mind of the celebrated Lanci and I have already, in another work, given it to the public as I received it from his pupil, and my friend, Mr. Gliddon, the distinguished archaeologist. But the results are too curious to be omitted whenever the tetragrammaton is discussed.


Elsewhere I have very fully alluded to the prevailing sentiment among the ancients, that the Supreme Deity was bisexual, or hermaphrodite, including in the essence of his being the male and female principles, the generative and prolific powers of nature. This was the universal doctrine in all the ancient religions, and was very naturally developed in the symbol of the phallus and cteis among the Greeks, and in the corresponding one of the lingam and yoni among the Orientalists; from which symbols the Masonic point within a circle is a legitimate derivation. They all taught that God, the Creator, was both male and female.  

Now, this theory is undoubtedly unobjectionable on the score of orthodoxy, if we view it in the spiritual sense, in which its first propounders must necessarily have intended it to be presented to the mind and not in the gross, sensual meaning in which it was subsequently received. For, taking the word sex, not in its ordinary and colloquial signification, as denoting the indication of a particular physical organization, but in that purely philosophical one, which alone can be used in such a connection and which simply signifies the mere manifestation of a power, it is not to be denied, that the Supreme Being must possess in himself and in himself alone, both a generative and a prolific power. This idea, which was so extensively prevalent among all the nations of antiquity, has also been traced in the tetragrammaton, or name of Jehovah, with singular ingenuity, by Lanci and what is almost equally as interesting, he has, by this discovery, been enabled to demonstrate what was, in all probability, the true pronunciation of the word.[ "All the male gods (of the ancients) may be reduced to one, the generative energy; and all the female to one, the prolific principle. In fact, they may all be included in the one great Hermaphrodite, the ἀῥῤενοθηλυς who combines in his nature all the elements of production, and who continues to support the vast creation which originally proceeded from his will."—RUSSELL'S Connection, i. p. 402.]  

In giving the details of this philological discovery, I will endeavor to make it as comprehensible as it can be made to those, who are not critically acquainted with the construction of the Hebrew language; those who are will at once appreciate its peculiar character and will excuse the explanatory details, of course unnecessary to them.


The ineffable name, the tetragrammaton, the shem hamphorash, for it is known by all these appellations, consists of four letters, yod, heh, vau, and heh, forming the word יהוה. This word, of course, in accordance with the genius of the Hebrew language, is read, as we would say, backward, or from right to left, beginning with yod [י], and ending with heh [ה].

Of these letters, the first, yod [י], is equivalent to the English i pronounced as e in the word machine. The second and fourth letter, heh [ה], is an aspirate, and has here the sound of the English h. And the third letter, vau [ו], has the sound of open o.  

Now, reading these four letters, י, or I, ה, or H, ו, or O, and ה, or H, as the Hebrew requires, from right to left, we have the word יהוה, יהוה, which is really as near to the pronunciation as we can well come, notwithstanding it forms neither of the seven ways in which the word is said to have been pronounced, at different times, by the patriarchs. [It is a tradition that it was pronounced in the following seven different ways by the patriarchs, from Methuselah to David, viz.: Juha, Jeva, Jova, Jevo, Jeveh, Johe, and Jehovah. In all these words the j is to be pronounced as y, the a as ah, the e as a, and the v as w.]

But, thus pronounced, the word gives us no meaning, for there is no such word in Hebrew as ihoh and as all the Hebrew names were significative of something, it is but fair to conclude, that this was not the original pronunciation and that we must look for another which will give a meaning to the word. Now, Lanci proceeds to the discovery of this true pronunciation, as follows.


In the Cabala, a hidden meaning is often deduced from a word by transposing or reversing its letters, and it was in this way that the Cabalists concealed many of their mysteries.

Now, to reverse a word in English is to read its letters from right to left, because our normal mode of reading is from left to right. But in Hebrew the contrary rule takes place, for there the normal mode of reading is from right to left; and therefore, to reverse the reading of a word, is to read it from left to right. Lanci applied this cabalistic mode to the tetragrammaton, when he found that IH-OH, being read reversely, makes the word HO-HI. [The i is to be pronounced as e, and the whole word as if spelled in English ho-he.]

But in Hebrew, ho is the masculine pronoun, equivalent to the English he and hi is the feminine pronoun, equivalent to she and therefore the word HO-HI, literally translated, is equivalent to the English compound HE-SHE; that is to say, the Ineffable Name of God in Hebrew, being read cabalistically, includes within itself the male and female principle, the generative and prolific energy of creation and here we have, again, the widely spread symbolism of the phallus and the cteis, the lingam and the yoni, or their equivalent, the point within a circle, and another pregnant proof of the connection between Freemasonry and the ancient Mysteries.


And here, perhaps, we may begin to find some meaning for the hitherto incomprehensible passage in Genesis (i. 27): "So God created man in his own image; in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." They could not have been "in the image" of IHOH, if they had not been "male and female."


The Cabalists have exhausted their ingenuity and imagination in speculations on this sacred name, and some of their fancies are really sufficiently interesting to repay an investigation. Sufficient, however, has been here said to account for the important position that it occupies in the Masonic system and to enable us to appreciate the symbols by which it has been represented.

The great reverence, or indeed the superstitious veneration, entertained by the ancients for the name of the Supreme Being, led them to express it rather in symbols or hieroglyphics than in any word at length.


We know, for instance, from the recent researches of the archaeologists, that in all the documents of the ancient Egyptians, written in the demotic or common character of the country, the names of the gods were invariably denoted by symbols. I have already alluded to the different modes by which the Jews expressed the tetragrammaton. A similar practice prevailed among the other nations of antiquity. Freemasonry has adopted the same expedient, and the Grand Architect of the Universe, whom it is the usage, even in ordinary writing, to designate by the initials G.A.O.T.U., is accordingly presented to us in a variety of symbols, three of which particularly require attention. These are the letter G, the equilateral triangle, and the All-Seeing Eye.


Of the letter G, I have already spoken. A letter of the English alphabet can scarcely be considered an appropriate symbol of an institution, which dates its organization and refers its primitive history to a period long anterior to the origin of that language. Such a symbol is deficient in the two elements of antiquity and universality, which should characterize every Masonic symbol. There can, therefore, be no doubt that, in its present form, it is a corruption of the old Hebrew symbol, the letter yod, by which the sacred name was often expressed. This letter is the initial of the word Jehovah, or Ihoh, as I have already stated, and is constantly to be met with in Hebrew writings as the symbol or abbreviature of Jehovah, which word, it will be remembered, is never written at length. But because G is, in like manner, the initial of God, the equivalent of Jehovah, this letter has been incorrectly, and, I cannot refrain from again saying, most injudiciously, selected to supply, in modern lodges, the place of the Hebrew symbol. Having, then, the same meaning and force as the Hebrew yod, the letter G must be considered, like its prototype, as the symbol of the life-giving and life-sustaining power of God, as manifested in the meaning of the word Jehovah, or Ihoh, the generative and prolific energy of the Creator.


The All-Seeing Eye is another, and a still more important, symbol of the same great Being. Both the Hebrews and the Egyptians appear to have derived its use from that natural inclination of figurative minds to select an organ as the symbol of the function, which it is intended peculiarly to discharge. Thus the foot was often adopted as the symbol of swiftness, the arm of strength, and the hand of fidelity. On the same principle, the open eye was selected as the symbol of watchfulness, and the eye of God as the symbol of divine watchfulness and care of the universe. The use of the symbol in this sense is repeatedly to be found in the Hebrew writers. Thus the Psalmist says (Ps. xxxiv. 15), "The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry," which explains a subsequent passage (Ps. cxxi. 4), in which it is said, "Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” [In the apocryphal "Book of the Conversation of God with Moses on Mount Sinai," translated by the Rev. W. Cureton from an Arabic MS. of the fifteenth century, and published by the Philobiblon Society of London, the idea of the eternal watchfulness of God is thus beautifully allegorized,

"Then Moses said to the Lord, O Lord, dost thou sleep or not? The Lord said unto Moses, I never sleep: but take a cup and fill it with water. Then Moses took a cup and filled it with water, as the Lord commanded him. Then the Lord cast into the heart of Moses the breath of slumber; so he slept, and the cup fell from his hand, and the water which was therein was spilled. Then Moses awoke from his sleep. Then said God to Moses, I declare by my power, and by my glory, that if I were to withdraw my providence from the heavens and the earth for no longer a space of time than thou hast slept, they would at once fall to ruin and confusion, like as the cup fell from thy hand."]


On the same principle, the Egyptians represented Osiris, their chief deity, by the symbol of an open eye, and placed this hieroglyphic of him in all their temples. His symbolic name, on the monuments, was represented by the eye accompanying a throne, to which was sometimes added an abbreviated figure of the god, and sometimes what has been called a hatchet, but which, I consider, may as correctly be supposed to be a representation of a square.


The All-Seeing Eye may, then, be considered as a symbol of God manifested in his omnipresence his guardian and preserving character to which Solomon alludes in the Book of Proverbs (xv. 3), when he says, "The eyes of Jehovah are in every place, beholding (or as it might be more faithfully translated, watching) the evil and the good." It is a symbol of the Omnipresent Deity.


The triangle is another symbol, which is entitled to our consideration. There is, in fact, no other symbol, which is more various in its application or more generally diffused throughout the whole system of both the Spurious and the Pure Freemasonry. The equilateral triangle appears to have been adopted by nearly all the nations of antiquity as a symbol of the Deity.

Among the Hebrews, it has already been stated that this figure, with a yod in the centre, was used to represent the tetragrammaton, or ineffable name of God.


The Egyptians considered the equilateral triangle as the most perfect of figures, and a representative of the great principle of animated existence, each of its sides referring to one of the three departments of creation,the animal, the vegetable, and the mineral. The symbol of universal nature among the Egyptians was the right angled triangle, of which the perpendicular side represented Osiris, or the male principle; the base, Isis, or the female principle; and the hypothenuse, their offspring, Horus, or the world emanating from the union of both principles.  All this, of course, is nothing more nor less than the phallus and cteis, or lingam and yoni, under a different form.


The symbol of the right-angled triangle was afterwards adopted by Pythagoras when he visited the banks of the Nile; and the discovery which he is said to have made in relation to the properties of this figure, but which he really learned from the Egyptian priests, is commemorated in Masonry by the introduction of the forty-seventh problem of Euclid's First Book among the symbols of the third degree. Here the same mystical application is supplied as in the Egyptian figure, namely, that the union of the male and female, or active and passive principles of nature, has produced the world. For the geometrical proposition being that the squares of the perpendicular and base are equal to the square of the hypothenuse, they may be said to produce it in the same way as Osiris and Isis are equal to, or produce, the world. Thus the perpendicular, Osiris, or the active, male principle, being represented by a line whose measurement is 3; and the base Isis, or the passive, female principle, by a line whose measurement is 4; then their union, or the addition of the squares of these numbers, will produce a square, whose root will be the hypothenuse, or a line whose measurement must be 5. For the square of 3 is 9, and the square of 4 is 16, and the square of 5 is 25; but 9 added to 16 is equal to 25; and thus, out of the addition, or coming together, of the squares of the perpendicular and base, arises the square of the hypothenuse, just as, out of the coming together, in the Egyptian system, of the active and passive principles, arises, or is generated, the world.


In the mediaeval history of the Christian church, the great ignorance of the people, and their inclination to a sort of materialism, led them to abandon the symbolic representations of the Deity, and to depict the Father with the form and lineaments of an aged man, many of which irreverent paintings, as far back as the twelfth century, are to be found in the religious books and edifices of Europe. But, after the period of the renaissance, a better spirit and a purer taste began to pervade the artists of the church, and thenceforth the Supreme Being was represented only by his name, the tetragrammaton, inscribed within an equilateral triangle, and placed within a circle of rays. Didron, in his invaluable work on Christian Iconography, gives one of these symbols, which was carved on wood in the seventeenth century, of which I annex a copy.

 [I have in my possession a rare copy of the Vulgate Bible, in black letter, printed at Lyons, in 1522. The frontispiece is a coarsely executed wood cut, divided into six compartments, and representing the six days of the creation. The Father is, in each compartment, pictured as an aged man engaged in his creative task.]


But even in the earliest ages, when the Deity was painted or sculptured as a personage, the nimbus, or glory, which surrounded the head of the Father, was often made to assume a triangular form. Didron says on this subject, "A nimbus, of a triangular form, is thus seen to be the exclusive attribute of the Deity, and most frequently restricted to the Father Eternal. The other persons of the trinity sometimes wear the triangle, but only in representations of the trinity, and because the Father is with them. Still, even then, beside the Father, who has a triangle, the Son and the Holy Ghost are often drawn with a circular nimbus only.”                 [Christian Iconography, Millington's trans., vol. i. p. 59.]


The triangle has, in all ages and in all religions, been deemed a symbol of Deity.


The Egyptians, the Greeks, and the other nations of antiquity, considered this figure, with its three sides, as a symbol of the creative energy displayed in the active and passive, or male and female, principles and their product, the world. The Christians referred it to their dogma of the trinity as a manifestation of the Supreme God and the Jews and the primitive masons to the three periods of existence included in the signification of the tetragrammaton, the past, the present, and the future.


In the higher degrees of Masonry, the triangle is the most important of all symbols, and most generally assumes the name of the Delta, in allusion to the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet, which is of the same form and bears that appellation.  

ten points distributed in the form of a triangle


The Delta, or mystical triangle, is generally surrounded by a circle of rays, called a "glory." When this glory is distinct from the figure, and surrounds it in the form of a circle (as in the example just given from Didron), it is then an emblem of God's eternal glory. When, as is most usual in the Masonic symbol, the rays emanate from the centre of the triangle, and, as it were, enshroud it in their brilliancy, it is symbolic of the Divine Light. The perverted ideas of the pagans referred these rays of light to their Sun god and their Sabian worship.


But the true Masonic idea of this glory is, that it symbolizes that Eternal Light of Wisdom, which surrounds the Supreme Architect as with a sea of glory and from him, as a common centre, emanates to the universe of his creation, and to which the prophet Ezekiel alludes in his eloquent description of Jehovah: "And I saw as the color of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from his loins even downward, I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about." (Chap. 1, ver. 27.)

Dante has also beautifully described this circumfused light of Deity,

"There is in heaven a light whose goodly shine
Makes the Creator visible to all
Created, that in seeing him, alone
Have peace; and in a circle spreads so far,
That the circumference were too loose a zone
To girdle in the sun."


On a recapitulation, then, of the views that have been advanced in relation to these three symbols of the Deity, which are to be found in the Masonic system, we may say that each one expresses a different attribute.

The letter G is the symbol of the self-existent Jehovah.

The All-Seeing Eye is the symbol of the omnipresent God.

The triangle is the symbol of the Supreme Architect of the Universe, the Creator and when surrounded by rays of glory, it becomes a symbol of the Architect and Bestower of Light.

[ The triangle, or delta, is the symbol of Deity for this reason. In geometry a single line cannot represent a perfect figure; neither can two lines; three lines, however, constitute the triangle or first perfect and demonstrable figure. Hence this figure symbolizes the Eternal God, infinitely perfect in his nature. But the triangle properly refers to God only in his quality as an Eternal Being, its three sides representing the Past, the Present, and the Future. Some Christian symbologists have made the three sides represent the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; but they evidently thereby destroy the divine unity, making a trinity of Gods in the unity of a Godhead. The Gnostic trinity of Manes consisted of one God and two principles, one of good and the other of evil. The Indian trinity, symbolized also by the triangle, consisted of Brahma, Siva, and Vishnu, the Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer, represented by Earth, Water, and Air. This symbolism of the Eternal God by the triangle is the reason why a trinitarian scheme has been so prevalent in all religions—the three sides naturally suggesting the three divisions of the Godhead. But in the Pagan and Oriental religions this trinity was nothing else but a tritheism.]  

And now, after all, is there not in this whole prevalence of the name of God, in so many different symbols, throughout the Masonic system, something more than a mere evidence of the religious proclivities of the institution? Is there not behind this a more profound symbolism, which constitutes, in fact, the very essence of Freemasonry?

  "The names of God," said a learned theologian at the beginning of this century, "were intended to communicate the knowledge of God himself. By these, men were enabled to receive some scanty ideas of his essential majesty, goodness, and power, and to know both whom we are to believe, and what we are to believe of him." And this train of thought is eminently applicable to the admission of the name into the system of Masonry. With us, the name of God, however expressed, is a symbol of DIVINE TRUTH, which it should be the incessant labor of a Mason to seek.


XXV.--The Legends of Freemasonry.


The compound character of a speculative science and an operative art, which the Masonic institution assumed at the building of King Solomon's temple, in consequence of the union, at that era, of the Pure Freemasonry of the Noachidae , with the Spurious Freemasonry of the Tyrian workmen, has supplied it with two distinct kinds of symbols—the mythical, or legendary, and the material; but these are so thoroughly united in object and design, that it is impossible to appreciate the one without an investigation of the other.

[  Noachidae, or Noachites, the descendants of Noah. This patriarch having alone preserved the true name and worship of God amid a race of impious idolaters, the Freemasons claim to be his descendants, because they preserve that pure religion which distinguished this second father of the human race from the rest of the world. (See the author's Lexicon of Freemasonry.) The Tyrian workmen at the temple of Solomon were the descendants of that other division of the race who fell off, at Shinar, from the true worship, and repudiated the principles of Noah. The Tyrians, however, like many other ancient mystics, had recovered some portion of the lost light, and the complete repossession was finally achieved by their union with the Jewish masons, who were Noachidae.]


Thus, by way of illustration, it may be observed, that the temple itself has been adopted as a material symbol of the world (as I have already shown in former articles), while the legendary history of the fate of its builder is a mythical symbol of man's destiny in the world. Whatever is visible or tangible to the senses in our types and emblems—such as the implements of operative masonry, the furniture and ornaments of a lodge, or the ladder of seven steps—is a material symbol; while whatever derives its existence from tradition, and presents itself in the form of an allegory or legend, is a mythical symbol. Hiram the Builder, therefore, and all that refers to the legend of his connection with the temple, and his fate, such as the sprig of acacia, the hill near Mount Moriah, and the lost word, are to be considered as belonging to the class of mythical or legendary symbols. And this division is not arbitrary, but depends on the nature of the types and the aspect in which they present themselves to our view.


Thus the sprig of acacia, although it is material, visible, and tangible, is, nevertheless, not to be treated as a material symbol; for, as it derives all its significance from its intimate connection with the legend of Hiram Abif, which is a mythical symbol, it cannot, without a violent and inexpedient disruption, be separated from the same class. For the same reason, the small hill near Mount Moriah, the search of the twelve Fellow Crafts, and the whole train of circumstances connected with the lost word, are to be viewed simply as mythical or legendary, and not as material symbols.


These legends of Freemasonry constitute a considerable and a very important part of its ritual. Without them, the most valuable portions of the Masonic as a scientific system would cease to exist. It is, in fact, in the traditions and legends of Freemasonry, more, even, than in its material symbols, that we are to find the deep religious instruction, which the institution is intended to inculcate. It must be remembered that Freemasonry has been defined to be "a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols." Symbols, then, alone, do not constitute the whole of the system. Allegory comes in for its share and this allegory, which veils the divine truths of masonry, is presented to the neophyte in the various legends, which have been traditionally preserved in the order.


The close connection, at least in design and method of execution, between the institution of Freemasonry and the ancient Mysteries, which were largely imbued with the mythical character of the ancient religions, led, undoubtedly, to the introduction of the same mythical character into the Masonic system.


So general, indeed, was the diffusion of the myth or legend among the philosophical, historical, and religious systems of antiquity, that Heyne remarks, on this subject, that all the history and philosophy of the ancients proceeded from myths.

 ["A mythis omnis priscorum hominum tum historia tum philosophia procedit."—Ad Apollod. Athen. Biblioth. not. f. p. 3.—And Faber says, "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."—On the Cabiri.]  

The word myth, from the Greek μῦθος, a story, in its original acceptation, signified simply a statement or narrative of an event, without any necessary implication of truth or falsehood. But, as the word is now used, it conveys the idea of a personal narrative of remote date, which, although not necessarily untrue, is certified only by the internal evidence of the tradition itself. [See Grote, History of Greece, vol. i. ch. xvi. p. 479, whence this definition has been substantially derived. The definitions of Creuzer, Hermann, Buttmann, Heyne, Welcker, Voss, and Müller are none of them Better, and some of them not as good.]  

Creuzer, in his "Symbolik," says that myths and symbols were derived, on the one hand, from the helpless condition and the poor and scanty beginnings of religious knowledge among the ancient peoples, and on the other, from the benevolent designs of the priests educated in the East, or of Eastern origin, to form them to a purer and higher knowledge.


But the observations of that profoundly philosophical historian, Mr. Grote, give so correct a view of the probable origin of this universality of the mythical element in all the ancient religions, and are, withal, so appropriate to the subject of Masonic legends which I am now about to discuss, that I cannot justly refrain from a liberal quotation of his remarks.


"The allegorical interpretation of the myths," he says, "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 the East, and communicating to the rude and barbarous Greeks religious, physical, and historical knowledge, under the veil of symbols. At a time (we are told) when language was yet in its infancy, visible symbols were the most vivid means of acting upon the minds of ignorant hearers. The next step was to pass to symbolical language and expressions, for a plain and literal exposition, even if understood at all, would at least have been listened to with indifference, as not corresponding with any mental demand. In such allegorizing way, then, the early priests set forth their doctrines respecting God, nature, and humanity, a refined monotheism and theological philosophy  and to this purpose the earliest myths were turned. But another class of myths, more popular and more captivating, grew up under the hands of the poets, myths purely epical, and descriptive of real or supposed past events. The allegorical myths, being taken up by the poets, insensibly became confounded in the same category with the purely narrative myths, the matter symbolized was no longer thought of, while the symbolizing words came to be construed in their own literal meaning, and the basis of the early allegory, thus lost among the general public, was only preserved as a secret among various religious fraternities, composed of members allied together by initiation in certain mystical ceremonies, and administered by hereditary families of presiding priests”.


"In the Orphic and Bacchic sects, in the Eleusinian and Samothracian Mysteries, was thus treasured up the secret doctrine of the old theological and philosophical myths, which had once constituted the primitive legendary stock of Greece in the hands of the original priesthood and in the ages anterior to Homer. Persons who had gone through the preliminary ceremonies of initiation were permitted at length to hear, though under strict obligation of secrecy, this ancient religion and cosmogonic doctrine, revealing the destination of man and the certainty of posthumous rewards and punishments, all disengaged from the corruptions of poets, as well as from the symbols and allegories under which they still remained buried in the eyes of the vulgar. The Mysteries of Greece were thus traced up to the earliest ages, and represented as the only faithful depositaries of that purer theology and physics which had been originally communicated, though under the unavoidable inconvenience of a symbolical expression, by an enlightened priesthood, coming from abroad, to the then rude barbarians of the country.”

[Hist. of Greece, vol. i. ch. xvi. p. 579. The idea of the existence of an enlightened people, who lived at a remote era, and came from the East, was a very prevalent notion among the ancient traditions. It is corroborative of this that the Hebrew word ֶקֶדם, kedem, signifies, in respect to place, the east, and, in respect to time, olden time, ancient days. The phrase in Isaiah xix. 11, which reads, "I am the son of the wise, the son of ancient kings," might just as well have been translated "the son of kings of the East." In a note to the passage Ezek. xliii. 2, "the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the East," Adam Clarke says, "All knowledge, all religion, and all arts and sciences, have travelled, according to the course of the sun, FROM EAST TO WEST!" Bazot tells us (in his Manuel du Franc-maçon, p. 154) that "the veneration which masons entertain for the east confirms an opinion previously announced, that the religious system of Masonry came from the east, and has reference to the primitive religion, whose first corruption was the worship of the sun." And lastly, the Masonic reader will recollect the answer given in the Leland MS. to the question respecting the origin of Masonry, namely, "It did begin" (I modernize the orthography) "with the first men in the east, which were before the first men of the west; and coming westerly, it hath brought herewith all comforts to the wild and comfortless." Locke's commentary on this answer may conclude this note: "It should seem, by this, that masons believe there were men in the east before Adam, who is called the 'first man of the west,' and that arts and sciences began in the east. Some authors, of great note for learning, have been of the same opinion; and it is certain that Europe and Africa (which, in respect to Asia, may be called western countries) were wild and savage long after arts and politeness of manners were in great perfection in China and the Indies." The Talmudists make the same allusions to the superiority of the east. Thus, Rabbi Bechai says, "Adam was created with his face towards the east that he might behold the light and the rising sun, whence the east was to him the anterior part of the world."]


In this long, but interesting extract we find not only a philosophical account of the origin and design of the ancient myths, but a fair synopsis of all that can be taught in relation to the symbolical construction of Freemasonry, as one of the depositaries of a mythical theology.  

The myths of Masonry, at first perhaps nothing more than the simple traditions of the Pure Freemasonry of the antediluvian system, having been corrupted and misunderstood in the separation of the races, were again purified, and adapted to the inculcation of truth, at first by the disciples of the Spurious Freemasonry, and then, more fully and perfectly, in the development of that system which we now practise. And if there be any leaven of error still remaining in the interpretation of our Masonic myths, we must seek to disengage them from the corruptions with which they have been invested by ignorance and by misinterpretation. We must give to them their true significance and trace them back to those ancient doctrines and faith whence the ideas which they are intended to embody were derived.


The myths or legends which present themselves to our attention in the course of a complete study of the symbolic system of Freemasonry may be considered as divided into three classes.

1.The historical myth.

2.The philosophical myth.

3.The mythical history.

And these three classes may be defined as follows.


1. The myth may be engaged in the transmission of a narrative of early deeds and events, having a foundation in truth, which truth, however, has been greatly distorted and perverted by the omission or introduction of circumstances and personages, and then it constitutes the historical myth.


2. Or it may have been invented and adopted as the medium of enunciating a particular thought, or of inculcating a certain doctrine, when it becomes a philosophical myth.


3.Or, lastly, the truthful elements of actual history may greatly predominate over the fictitious and invented materials of the myth, and the narrative may be, in the main, made up of facts, with a slight coloring of imagination, when it forms a mythical history.

[ Strauss makes a division of myths into historical, philosophical, and poetical.—Leben Jesu.—His poetical myth agrees with my first division, his philosophical with my second, and his historical with my third. But I object to the word poetical, as a distinctive term, because all myths have their foundation in the poetic idea.]

These form the three divisions of the legend or myth (for I am not disposed, on the present occasion, like some of the German mythological writers, to make a distinction between the two words) and to one of these three divisions we must appropriate every legend which belongs to the mythical symbolism of Freemasonry.[ Ulmann, for instance, distinguishes between a myth and a legend—the former containing, to a great degree, fiction combined with history, and the latter having but a few faint echoes of mythical history.]  

These Masonic myths partake, in their general character, of the nature of the myths which constituted the foundation of the ancient religions, as they have just been described in the language of Mr. Grote. Of these latter myths, Müller  says that "their source is to be found, for the most part, in oral tradition," and that the real and the ideal, that is to say, the facts of history and the inventions of imagination, concurred, by their union and reciprocal fusion, in producing the myth. Those are the very principles that govern the construction of the Masonic myths or legends. These, too, owe their existence entirely to oral tradition, and are made up, as I have just observed, of a due admixture of the real and the ideal, the true and the false, the facts of history and the inventions of allegory.  

Dr. Oliver remarks that "the first series of historical facts, after the fall of man, must necessarily have been traditional, and transmitted from father to son by oral communication.” ["Prolegomena zu einer wissenshaftlichen Mythologie," cap. iv. This valuable work was translated in 1844, by Mr. John Leitch.]  

The same system, adopted in all the Mysteries, has been continued in the Masonic institution and all the esoteric instructions contained in the legends of Freemasonry are forbidden to be written, and can be communicated only in the oral intercourse of Freemasons with each other. [Historical Landmarks, i. 53.]


De Wette, in his Criticism on the Mosaic History, lays down the test by which a myth is to be distinguished from a strictly historical narrative, as follows, namely,  that the myth must owe its origin to the intention of the inventor not to satisfy the natural thirst for historical truth by a simple narration of facts, but rather to delight or touch the feelings, or to illustrate some philosophical or religious truth.


This definition precisely fits the character of the myths of Masonry. Take, for instance, the legend of the master's degree, or the myth of Hiram Abif. As "a simple narration of facts," it is of no great value, certainly not of value commensurate with the labor, that has been engaged in its transmission. Its invention, by which is meant, not the invention or imagination of all the incidents of which it is composed, for there are abundant materials of the true and real in its details, but its invention or composition in the form of a myth by the addition of some features, the suppression of others, and the general arrangement of the whole, was not intended to add a single item to the great mass of history, but altogether, as De Wette says, "to illustrate a philosophical or religious truth," which truth, it is hardly necessary for me to say, is the doctrine of the immortality of the soul.


It must be evident, from all that has been said respecting the analogy in origin and design between the Masonic and the ancient religious myths, that no one acquainted with the true science of this subject can, for a moment, contend that all the legends and traditions of the order are, to the very letter, historical facts. All that can be claimed for them is, that in some there is simply a substratum of history, the edifice constructed on this foundation being purely inventive, to serve us a medium for inculcating some religious truth; in others, nothing more than an idea to which the legend or myth is indebted for its existence, and of which it is, as a symbol, the exponent; and in others, again, a great deal of truthful narrative, more or less intermixed with fiction, but the historical always predominating.

Thus there is a legend, contained in some of our old records, which states that Euclid was a distinguished Mason, and that he introduced Masonry among the Egyptians. Now, it is not at all necessary to the orthodoxy of a Mason's creed that he should literally believe that Euclid, the great geometrician, was really a Freemason, and that the ancient Egyptians were indebted to him for the establishment of the institution among them. Indeed, the palpable anachronism in the legend, which makes Euclid the contemporary of Abraham necessarily prohibits any such belief, and shows that the whole story is a sheer invention. The intelligent Mason, however, will not wholly reject the legend, as ridiculous or absurd; but, with a due sense of the nature and design of our system of symbolism, will rather accept it as what, in the classification laid down on a preceding page, would be called "a philosophical myth", an ingenious method of conveying, symbolically, a Masonic truth. ["The Unwritten Landmarks of Freemasonry," in the first volume of the Masonic Miscellany, in which this subject is treated at considerable length.]

Euclid is here very appropriately used as a type of geometry, that science of which he was so eminent a teacher and the myth or legend then symbolizes the fact, that there was in Egypt a close connection between that science and the great moral and religious system, which was among the Egyptians, as well as other ancient nations, what Freemasonry is in the present day—a secret institution, established for the inculcation of the same principles, and inculcating them in the same symbolic manner.

[As a matter of some interest to the curious reader, I insert the legend as published in the Gentleman's Magazine of June, 1815, from, it is said, a parchment roll supposed to have been written early in the seventeenth century, and which, if so, was in all probability copied from one of an older date. "Moreover, when Abraham and Sara his wife went into Egipt, there he taught the Seaven Scyences to the Egiptians; and he had a worthy Scoller that height Ewclyde, and he learned right well, and was a master of all the vij Sciences liberall. And in his dayes it befell that the lord and the estates of the realme had soe many sonns that they had gotten some by their wifes and some by other ladyes of the realme; for that land is a hott land and a plentious of generacion. And they had not competent livehode to find with their children; wherefor they made much care. And then the King of the land made a great counsell and a parliament, to witt, how they might find their children honestly as gentlemen. And they could find no manner of good way. And then they did crye through all the realme, if there were any man that could enforme them, that he should come to them, and he should be soe rewarded for his travail, that he should hold him pleased.

"After that this cry was made, then came this worthy clarke Ewclyde, and said to the King and to all his great lords: 'If yee will, take me your children to governe, and to teach them one of the Seaven Scyences, wherewith they may live honestly as gentlemen should, under a condicion that yee will grant mee and them a commission that I may have power to rule them after the manner that the science ought to be ruled.' And that the Kinge and all his counsell granted to him anone, and sealed their commission. And then this worthy tooke to him these lords' sonns, and taught them the science of Geometric in practice, for to work in stones all manner of worthy worke that belongeth to buildinge churches, temples, castells, towres, and mannors, and all other manner of buildings."]


So interpreted, this legend corresponds to all the developments of Egyptian history, which teach us,  how close a connection existed in that country between the religious and scientific systems. Thus Kenrick tells us, that "when we read of foreigners [in Egypt] being obliged to submit to painful and tedious ceremonies of initiation, it was not that they might learn the secret meaning of the rites of Osiris or Isis, but that they might partake of the knowledge of astronomy, physic, geometry, and theology.” [Ancient Egypt under the Pharaohs, vol. I p. 393]


Another illustration will be found in the myth or legend of the Winding Stairs, by which the Fellow Crafts are said to have ascended to the middle chamber to receive their wages. Now, this myth, taken in its literal sense, is, in all its parts, opposed to history and probability. As a myth, it finds its origin in the fact that there was a place in the temple called the "Middle Chamber," and that there were "winding stairs" by which it was reached; for we read, in the First Book of Kings, that "they went up with winding stairs into the middle chamber.” [1 Kings vi. 8.]  

But we have no historical evidence that the stairs were of the construction, or that the chamber was used for the purpose, indicated in the mythical narrative, as it is set forth in the ritual of the second degree. The whole legend is, in fact, an historical myth, in which the mystic number of the steps, the process of passing to the chamber, and the wages there received, are inventions added to or ingrafted on the fundamental history contained in the sixth chapter of Kings, to inculcate important symbolic instruction relative to the principles of the order. These lessons might, it is true, have been inculcated in a dry, didactic form; but the allegorical and mythical method adopted tends to make a stronger and deeper impression on the mind, and at the same time serves more closely to connect the institution of Masonry with the ancient temple.  

Again, the myth which traces the origin of the institution of Freemasonry to the beginning of the world, making its commencement coeval with the creation, a myth which is, even at this day, ignorantly interpreted, by some, as an historical fact and the reference to which is still preserved in the date of "anno lucis," which is affixed to all Masonic documents, is but a philosophical myth, symbolizing the idea which analogically connects the creation of physical light in the universe with the birth of Masonic or spiritual and intellectual light in the candidate. The one is the type of the other. When, therefore, Preston says that "from the commencement of the world we may trace the foundation of Masonry," and when he goes on to assert that "ever since symmetry began, and harmony displayed her charms, our order has had a being," we are not to suppose that Preston intended to teach that a Masonic lodge was held in the Garden of Eden. Such a supposition would justly subject us to the ridicule of every intelligent person. The only idea intended to be conveyed is this, that the principles of Freemasonry, which, indeed, are entirely independent of any special organization which it may have as a society, are coeval with the existence of the world; that when God said, "Let there be light," the material light thus produced was an antitype of that spiritual light that must burst upon the mind of every candidate when his intellectual world, theretofore "without form and void," becomes adorned and peopled with the living thoughts and divine principles which constitute the great system of Speculative Masonry, and when the spirit of the institution, brooding over the vast deep of his mental chaos, shall, from intellectual darkness, bring forth intellectual light. [An allusion to this symbolism is retained in one of the well-known mottoes of the order—"Lux e tenebris."]  

In the legends of the Master's degree and of the Royal Arch there is a commingling of the historical myth and the mythical history, so that profound judgment is often required to discriminate these differing elements. As, for example, the legend of the third degree is, in some of its details, undoubtedly mythical—in others, just as undoubtedly historical. The difficulty, however, of separating the one from the other, and of distinguishing the fact from the fiction, has necessarily produced a difference of opinion on the subject among Masonic writers. Hutchinson, and, after him, Oliver, think the whole legend an allegory or philosophical myth. I am inclined, with Anderson and the earlier writers, to suppose it a mythical history. In the Royal Arch degree, the legend of the rebuilding of the temple is clearly historical; but there are so many accompanying circumstances, which are uncertified, except by oral tradition, as to give to the entire narrative the appearance of a mythical history. The particular legend of the three weary sojourners is undoubtedly a myth, and perhaps merely a philosophical one, or the enunciation of an idea, namely, the reward of successful perseverance, through all dangers, in the search for divine truth.


"To form symbols and to interpret symbols," says the learned Creuzer, "were the main occupation of the ancient priesthood." Upon the studious Mason the same task of interpretation devolves.


He who desires properly to appreciate the profound wisdom of the institution of which he is the disciple, must not be content, with uninquiring credulity, to accept all the traditions that are imparted to him as veritable histories, nor yet, with unphilosophic incredulity, to reject them in a mass, as fabulous inventions. In these extremes there is equal error. "The myth," says Hermann, "is the representation of an idea." It is for that idea that the student must search in the myths of Masonry. Beneath every one of them there is something richer and more spiritual than the mere narrative. ["An allegory is that in which, under borrowed characters and allusions, is shadowed some real action or moral instruction; or, to keep more strictly to its derivation (ἄλλος, alius, and ἀγορεύω, dico), it is that in which one thing is related and another thing is understood. Hence it is apparent that an allegory must have two senses—the literal and mystical; and for that reason it must convey its instruction under borrowed characters and allusions throughout."—The Antiquity, Evidence, and Certainty of Christianity canvassed, or Dr. Middleton's Examination of the Bishop of London's Discourses on Prophecy. By Anselm Bayly, LL.B., Minor Canon of St. Paul's. Lond, 1751.]

This spiritual essence he must learn to extract from the ore in which, like a precious metal, it lies imbedded. It is this that constitutes the true value of Freemasonry. Without its symbols, and its myths or legends, and the ideas and conceptions which lie at the bottom of them, the time, the labor, and the expense incurred in perpetuating the institution, would be thrown away. Without them, it would be a "vain and empty show." Its grips and signs are worth nothing, except for social purposes, as mere means of recognition. So, too, would be its words, were it not that they are, for the most part, symbolic. Its social habits and its charities are but incidental points in its constitution of themselves good, it is true, but capable of being attained in a simpler way. Its true value, as a science, consists in its symbolism in the great lessons of divine truth which it teaches, and in the admirable manner in which it accomplishes that teaching. Every one, therefore, who desires to be a skilful Mason, must not suppose that the task is accomplished by a perfect knowledge of the mere phraseology of the ritual, by a readiness in opening and closing a lodge, nor by an off-hand capacity to confer degrees. All these are good in their places, but without the internal meaning, they are but mere child's play. He must study the myths, the traditions, and the symbols of the order, and learn their true interpretation, for this alone constitutes the science and the philosophy, the end, aim, and design of Speculative Masonry.


XXVI.--The Legend of the Winding Stairs.


Before proceeding to the examination of those more important mythical legends, which appropriately belong to the Master's degree, it will not, I think, be unpleasing or uninstructive to consider the only one which is attached to the Fellow Craft's degree, that, namely, which refers to the allegorical ascent of the Winding Stairs to the Middle Chamber and the symbolic payment of the workmen's wages.


Although the legend of the Winding Stairs forms an important tradition of Ancient Craft Masonry, the only allusion to it in Scripture is to be found in a single verse in the sixth chapter of the First Book of Kings, and is in these words: "The door for the middle chamber was in the right side of the house and they went up with winding stairs into the middle chamber, and out of the middle into the third." Out of this slender material has been constructed an allegory, which, if properly considered in its symbolical relations, will be found to be of surpassing beauty. But it is only as a symbol that we can regard this whole tradition, for the historical facts and the architectural details alike forbid us for a moment to suppose that the legend, as it is rehearsed in the second degree of Masonry, is anything more than a magnificent philosophical myth.


Let us inquire into the true design of this legend, and learn the lesson of symbolism, which it is intended to teach.


In the investigation of the true meaning of every Masonic symbol and allegory, we must be governed by the single principle that the whole design of Freemasonry as a speculative science is the investigation of divine truth. To this great object everything is subsidiary. The Mason is, from the moment of his initiation as an Entered Apprentice, to the time at which he receives the full fruition of Masonic light, an investigator, a laborer in the quarry and the temple, whose reward is to be Truth. All the ceremonies and traditions of the order tend to this ultimate design. Is there light to be asked for? It is the intellectual light of wisdom and truth. Is there a word to be sought? That word is the symbol of truth. Is there a loss of something that had been promised? That loss is typical of the failure of man, in the infirmity of his nature, to discover divine truth. Is there a substitute to be appointed for that loss? It is an allegory, which teaches us that in this world man can only approximate to the full conception of truth. Hence, there is in Speculative Masonry always a progress, symbolized by its peculiar ceremonies of initiation. There is an advancement from a lower to a higher state, from darkness to light, from death to life, from error to truth. The candidate is always ascending.  He is never stationary. He never goes back, but each step he takes, brings him to some new mental illumination, to the knowledge of some more elevated doctrine. The teaching of the Divine Master is, in respect to this continual progress, the teaching of Masonry. "No man having put his hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of heaven." And similar to this is the precept of Pythagoras,  "When travelling, turn not back, for if you do the Furies will accompany you."


Now, this principle of Masonic symbolism is apparent in many places in each of the degrees. In that of the Entered Apprentice we find it developed in the theological ladder, which, resting on earth, leans its top upon heaven, thus inculcating the idea of an ascent from a lower to a higher sphere, as the object of Masonic labor. In the Master's degree we find it exhibited in its most religious form, in the restoration from death to life, in the change from the obscurity of the grave to the holy of holies of the Divine Presence. In all the degrees we find it presented in the ceremony of circumambulation, in which there is a gradual inquisition, and a passage from an inferior to a superior officer. And lastly, the same symbolic idea is conveyed in the Fellow Craft's degree in the legend of the Winding Stairs.


In an investigation of the symbolism of the Winding Stairs we shall be directed to the true explanation by a reference to their origin, their number, the objects which they recall, and their termination, but above all by a consideration of the great design, which an ascent upon them was intended to accomplish.


The steps of this Winding Staircase commenced, we are informed, at the porch of the temple, that is to say, at its very entrance. But nothing is more undoubted in the science of Masonic symbolism than that the temple was the representative of the world purified by the Shekinah, or the Divine Presence. The world of the profane is without the temple; the world of the initiated is within its sacred walls. Hence, to enter the temple, to pass within the porch, to be made a Mason and to be born into the world of Masonic light, are all synonymous and convertible terms. Here, then, the symbolism of the Winding Stairs begins.


The Apprentice, having entered within the porch of the temple, has begun his Masonic life. But the first degree in Masonry, like the lesser Mysteries of the ancient systems of initiation, is only a preparation and purification for something higher. The Entered Apprentice is the child in Masonry. The lessons which he receives are simply intended to cleanse the heart and prepare the recipient for that mental illumination which is to be given in the succeeding degrees.


As a Fellow Craft, he has advanced another step, and as the degree is emblematic of youth, so it is here that the intellectual education of the candidate begins. And therefore, here, at the very spot which separates the Porch from the Sanctuary, where childhood ends and manhood begins, he finds stretching out before him a winding stair which invites him, as it were, to ascend, and which, as the symbol of discipline and instruction, teaches him that here must commence his Masonic labor, here he must enter upon those glorious though difficult researches, the end of which is to be the possession of divine truth. The Winding Stairs begin after the candidate has passed within the Porch and between the pillars of Strength and Establishment, as a significant symbol to teach him that as soon as he has passed beyond the years of irrational childhood and commenced his entrance upon manly life, the laborious task of self improvement is the first duty that is placed before him. He cannot stand still, if he would be worthy of his vocation; his destiny as an immortal being requires him to ascend, step by step, until he has reached the summit, where the treasures of knowledge await him.


The number of these steps in all the systems has been odd. Vitruvius remarks and the coincidence is at least curious, that the ancient temples were always ascended by an odd number of steps; and he assigns as the reason, that, commencing with the right foot at the bottom, the worshipper would find the same foot foremost when he entered the temple, which was considered as a fortunate omen. But the fact is, that the symbolism of numbers was borrowed by the Masons from Pythagoras, in whose system of philosophy it plays an important part and in which odd numbers were considered as more perfect than even ones. Hence, throughout the Masonic system, we find a predominance of odd numbers and while three, five, seven, nine, fifteen, and twenty seven, are all important symbols, we seldom find a reference to two, four, six, eight, or ten. The odd number of the stairs was therefore intended to symbolize the idea of perfection, to which it was the object of the aspirant to attain.


As to the particular number of the stairs, this has varied at different periods. Tracing boards of the last century have been found, in which only five steps are delineated and others in which they amount to seven. The Prestonian lectures, used in England in the beginning of this century, gave the whole number as thirty eight, dividing them into series of one, three, five, seven, nine, and eleven. The error of making an even number, which was a violation of the Pythagorean principle of odd numbers as the symbol of perfection, was corrected in the Hemming lectures, adopted at the union of the two Grand Lodges of England, by striking out the eleven, which was also objectionable as receiving a sectarian explanation. In this country [ U.S]  the number was still further reduced to fifteen, divided into three series of three, five, and seven. I shall adopt this American division in explaining the symbolism, although, after all, the particular number of the steps, or the peculiar method of their division into series, will not in any way affect the general symbolism of the whole legend.


The candidate, then, in the second degree of Masonry, represents a man starting forth on the journey of life, with the great task before him of self improvement. For the faithful performance of this task, a reward is promised, which reward consists in the development of all his intellectual faculties, the moral and spiritual elevation of his character and the acquisition of truth and knowledge. Now, the attainment of this moral and intellectual condition supposes an elevation of character, an ascent from a lower to a higher life, and a passage of toil and difficulty, through rudimentary instruction, to the full fruition of wisdom. This is therefore beautifully symbolized by the Winding Stairs, at whose foot the aspirant stands ready to climb the toilsome steep, while at its top is placed "that hieroglyphic bright which none but Craftsmen ever saw," as the emblem of divine truth. And hence, a distinguished writer has said that "these steps, like all the Masonic symbols, are illustrative of discipline and doctrine, as well as of natural, mathematical and metaphysical science and open to us an extensive range of moral and speculative inquiry."


The candidate, incited by the love of virtue and the desire of knowledge and withal eager for the reward of truth, which is set before him, begins at once the toilsome ascent. At each division he pauses to gather instruction from the symbolism, which these divisions present to his attention.

At the first pause, which he makes, he is instructed in the peculiar organization of the order of which he has become a disciple. But the information here given, if taken in its naked, literal sense, is barren, and unworthy of his labor. The rank of the officers who govern, and the names of the degrees which constitute the institution, can give him no knowledge, which he has not before possessed. We must look therefore to the symbolic meaning of these allusions for any value, which may be attached to this part of the ceremony.


The reference to the organization of the Masonic institution is intended to remind the aspirant of the union of men in society and the development of the social state out of the state of nature. He is thus reminded, in the very outset of his journey, of the blessings, which arise from civilization, and of the fruits of virtue and knowledge, which are derived from that condition. Masonry itself is the result of civilization; while, in grateful return, it has been one of the most important means of extending that condition of mankind.


All the monuments of antiquity that the ravages of time have left, combine to prove that man had no sooner emerged from the savage into the social state, than he commenced the organization of religious mysteries and the separation, by a sort of divine instinct, of the sacred from the profane. Then came the invention of architecture as a means of providing convenient dwellings and necessary shelter from the inclemencies and vicissitudes of the seasons, with all the mechanical arts connected with it and lastly, geometry, as a necessary science to enable the cultivators of land to measure and designate the limits of their possessions. All these are claimed as peculiar characteristics of Speculative Masonry, which may be considered as the type of civilization, the former bearing the same relation to the profane world as the latter does to the savage state. Hence we at once see the fitness of the symbolism which commences the aspirant's upward progress in the cultivation of knowledge and the search after truth, by recalling to his mind the condition of civilization and the social union of mankind as necessary preparations for the attainment of these objects. In the allusions to the officers of a lodge, and the degrees of Masonry as explanatory of the organization of our own society, we clothe in our symbolic language the history of the organization of society.


Advancing in his progress, the candidate is invited to contemplate another series of instructions. The human senses, as the appropriate channels through which we receive all our ideas of perception and which, therefore, constitute the most important sources of our knowledge, are here referred to as a symbol of intellectual cultivation. Architecture, as the most important of the arts which conduce to the comfort of mankind, is also alluded to here, not simply because it is so closely connected with the operative institution of Masonry, but also as the type of all the other useful arts. In his second pause, in the ascent of the Winding Stairs, the aspirant is therefore reminded of the necessity of cultivating practical knowledge. So far, then, the instructions he has received relate to his own condition in society as a member of the great social compact and to his means of becoming, by a knowledge of the arts of practical life, a necessary and useful member of that society. But his motto will be, "Excelsior." Still must he go onward and forward. The stair is still before him. Its summit is not yet reached and still further treasures of wisdom are to be sought for, or the reward will not be gained, nor the middle chamber, the abiding place of truth, be reached.


In his third pause, he therefore arrives at that point in which the whole circle of human science is to be explained. Symbols, we know, are in themselves arbitrary and of conventional signification, and the complete circle of human science might have been as well symbolized by any other sign or series of doctrines as by the seven liberal arts and sciences. But Masonry is an institution of the olden time, and this selection of the liberal arts and sciences as a symbol of the completion of human learning is one of the most pregnant evidences that we have of its antiquity

In the seventh century and for a long time afterwards, the circle of instruction to which all the learning of the most eminent schools and most distinguished philosophers was confined, was limited to what were then called the liberal arts and sciences, and consisted of two branches, the trivium and the quadrivium. The trivium included grammar, rhetoric, and logic; the quadrivium comprehended arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. [The words themselves are purely classical, but the meanings here given to them are of a mediaeval or corrupt Latinity. Among the old Romans, a trivium meant a place where three ways met, and a quadrivium where four, or what we now call a cross-road. When we speak of the paths of learning, we readily discover the origin of the signification given by the scholastic philosophers to these terms.]

"These seven heads," says Enfield, "were supposed to include universal knowledge. He who was master of these was thought to have no need of a preceptor to explain any books or to solve any questions which lay within the compass of human reason, the knowledge of the trivium having furnished him with the key to all language, and that of the quadrivium having opened to him the secret laws of nature.” [Hist. of Philos. vol. ii. p. 337]

At a period, says the same writer, when few were instructed in the trivium, and very few studied the quadrivium, to be master of both was sufficient to complete the character of a philosopher. The propriety, therefore, of adopting the seven liberal arts and sciences as a symbol of the completion of human learning is apparent. The candidate, having reached this point, is now supposed to have accomplished the task upon which he had entered, he has reached the last step, and is now ready to receive the full fruition of human learning.


So far, then, we are able to comprehend the true symbolism of the Winding Stairs. They represent the progress of an inquiring mind with the toils and labors of intellectual cultivation and study, and the preparatory acquisition of all human science, as a preliminary step to the attainment of divine truth, which it must be remembered is always symbolized in Masonry by the WORD.  

Here let me again allude to the symbolism of numbers, which is for the first time presented to the consideration of the Masonic student in the legend of the Winding Stairs. The theory of numbers as the symbols of certain qualities was originally borrowed by the Masons from the school of Pythagoras. It will be impossible, however, to develop this doctrine, in its entire extent, on the present occasion, for the numeral symbolism of Masonry would itself constitute materials for an ample essay. It will be sufficient to advert to the fact that the total number of the steps, amounting in all to fifteen, in the American system, is a significant symbol. For fifteen was a sacred number among the Orientals, because the letters of the holy name JAH, יה, were, in their numerical value, equivalent to fifteen; and hence a figure in which the nine digits were so disposed as to make fifteen either way when added together perpendicularly, horizontally, or diagonally, constituted one of their most sacred talismans. The fifteen steps in the Winding Stairs are therefore symbolic of the name of God. [ Such a talisman was the following figure]











But we are not yet done. It will be remembered that a reward was promised for all this toilsome ascent of the Winding Stairs. Now, what are the wages of a Speculative Mason? Not money, nor corn, nor wine, nor oil. All these are but symbols. His wages are TRUTH, or that approximation to it which will be most appropriate to the degree into which he has been initiated. It is one of the most beautiful, but at the same time most abstruse, doctrines of the science of Masonic symbolism, that the Mason is ever to be in search of truth, but is never to find it. This divine truth, the object of all his labors, is symbolized by the WORD, for which we all know he can only obtain a substitute; and this is intended to teach the humiliating but necessary lesson that the knowledge of the nature of God and of man's relation to him, which knowledge constitutes divine truth, can never be acquired in this life. It is only when the portals of the grave open to us, and give us an entrance into a more perfect life, that this knowledge is to be attained. "Happy is the man," says the father of lyric poetry, "who descends beneath the hollow earth, having beheld these mysteries; he knows the end, he knows the origin of life."


The Middle Chamber is therefore symbolic of this life, where the symbol only of the word can be given, where the truth is to be reached by approximation only, and yet where we are to learn that that truth will consist in a perfect knowledge of the G.A.O.T.U. This is the reward of the inquiring Mason; in this consist the wages of a Fellow Craft; he is directed to the truth, but must travel farther and ascend still higher to attain it.


It is, then, as a symbol, and a symbol only, that we must study this beautiful legend of the Winding Stairs. If we attempt to adopt it as an historical fact, the absurdity of its details stares us in the face, and wise men will wonder at our credulity. Its inventors had no desire thus to impose upon our folly; but offering it to us as a great philosophical myth, they did not for a moment suppose that we would pass over its sublime moral teachings to accept the allegory as an historical narrative, without meaning, and wholly irreconcilable with the records of Scripture, and opposed by all the principles of probability. To suppose that eighty thousand craftsmen were weekly paid in the narrow precincts of the temple chambers, is simply to suppose an absurdity. But to believe that all this pictorial representation of an ascent by a Winding Staircase to the place where the wages of labor were to be received, was an allegory to teach us the ascent of the mind from ignorance, through all the toils of study and the difficulties of obtaining knowledge, receiving here a little and there a little, adding something to the stock of our ideas at each step, until, in the middle chamber of life, in the full fruition of manhood, the reward is attained, and the purified and elevated intellect is invested with the reward in the direction how to seek God and God's truth, to believe this is to believe and to know the true design of Speculative Masonry, the only design which makes it worthy of a good or a wise man's study. Its historical details are barren, but its symbols and allegories are fertile with instruction.



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