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[ Chapters 27 to 31 of The Symbolism of Freemasonry
are posted in this Article.This section contains an elaborate exposition of the
nature, progress and the ultimate aim of our system of Speculative Science.
These concluding chapters require a careful study with concentration and the
assimilation of which will certainly make the reader a well informed Freemason]
Symbolism of Freemasonry.
Illustrating And Explaining
Science and Philosophy, its Legends, Myths
Albert G. Mackey. M.D.,
27 to 31.)
27. The Legend of the Third Degree.
28. The Sprig of Acacia.
29. The Symbolism of Labor.
30. The Stone of Foundation.
31. The Lost Word.
Legend of the Third Degree.
The most important and significant of the legendary
symbols of Freemasonry is, undoubtedly, that which relates to the fate of Hiram
Abif, commonly called, "by way of excellence," the Legend of the Third
The first written record
that I have been able to find of this legend is contained in the second
edition of Anderson's Constitutions, published in 1738, and is in these words,
(the temple) was finished in the short space of seven years and six months,
to the amazement of all the world, when the cape stone was celebrated by the
with great joy. But their joy was soon interrupted by the sudden
their dear master, Hiram Abif, whom they decently interred, in the lodge near
the temple, according to ancient usage.”
[Anderson's Constitutions, 2d ed. 1738,
In the next edition of
the same work, published in 1756, a few additional circumstances are related,
such as the participation of King Solomon in the general grief, and the fact
that the King of Israel "ordered his obsequies to be conducted with great
solemnity and decency.” [Anderson's
Constitutions, 3d ed. 1756, p. 24.] With
these exceptions and the citations of the same passages, made by subsequent
authors, the narrative has always remained unwritten and descended, from age to
age, through the means of oral tradition.
The legend has been considered of so much importance,
that it has been preserved in the symbolism of every Masonic rite. No matter
what modifications or alterations the general system may have undergone, no
matter how much the ingenuity or the imagination of the founders of rites may
have perverted or corrupted other symbols, abolishing the old and substituting
new ones, the legend of the Temple Builder has ever been left untouched, to
present itself in all the integrity of its ancient mythical form.
What, then, is the signification of this symbol, so
important and so extensively diffused? What interpretation can we give to it
that will account for its universal adoption? How is it that it has thus become
so intimately interwoven with Freemasonry as to make, to all appearances, a part
of its very essence, and to have been always deemed inseparable from it?
To answer these questions, satisfactorily, it is
necessary to trace, in a brief investigation, the remote origin of the
institution of Freemasonry and its connection with the ancient systems of
It was, then, the great object of all the rites and
mysteries which constituted the "Spurious Freemasonry" of antiquity to
teach the consoling doctrine of the immortality of the soul.
hidden doctrines of the unity of the Deity and the immortality of the soul were
originally in all the Mysteries, even those of Cupid and Bacchus."—WARBURTON,
in Spence's Anecdotes, p. 309.]
This dogma, shining as an almost solitary beacon
light in the surrounding gloom of pagan darkness, had undoubtedly been received
from that ancient people or priesthood, what has been called the system of
"Pure Freemasonry," and among whom it probably existed only in the
form of an abstract proposition or a simple and unembellished tradition.
["The allegorical interpretation of the myths has been, by several
learned investigators, especially by Creuzer, connected with the hypothesis of
an ancient and highly instructed body of priests, having their origin either in
Egypt or in the East, and communicating to the rude and barbarous Greeks
religious, physical, and historical knowledge, under the veil of
symbols."—GROTE, Hist. of Greece, vol. i. ch. xvi. p. 579.—And the
Chevalier Ramsay corroborates this theory: "Vestiges of the most sublime
truths are to be found in the sages of all nations, times, and religions, both
sacred and profane, and these vestiges are emanations of the antediluvian and
noevian tradition, more or less disguised and adulterated."—Philosophical
Principles of Natural and Revealed Religion unfolded in a Geometrical Order,
vol. 1, p. iv.]
in the more sensual minds of the pagan philosophers and mystics, the idea, when
presented to the initiates in their Mysteries, was always conveyed in the form
of a scenic representation.
this there is abundant evidence in all the ancient and modern writers on the
Mysteries. Apuleius, cautiously describing his initiation into the Mysteries of
Isis, says, "I approached the confines of death, and having trod on the
threshold of Proserpine, I returned therefrom, being borne through all the
elements. At midnight I saw the sun shining with its brilliant light; and I
approached the presence of the gods beneath, and the gods of heaven, and stood
near and worshipped them."—Metam. lib. vi. The context shows that
all this was a scenic representation.]
influence, too, of the early Sabian worship of the sun and heavenly bodies, in
which the solar orb was adored, on its resurrection, each morning, from the
apparent death of its evening setting, caused this rising sun to be adopted in
the more ancient Mysteries as a symbol of the regeneration of the soul.
Thus in the Egyptian Mysteries we find a
representation of the death and subsequent regeneration of Osiris; in the Phœnician,
of Adonis; in the Syrian, of Dionysus; in all of which the scenic apparatus of
initiation was intended to indoctrinate the candidate into the dogma of a future
It will be sufficient here to refer simply to the
fact, that through the instrumentality of the Tyrian workmen at the temple of
King Solomon, the spurious and pure branches of the Masonic system were united
at Jerusalem and that the same method of scenic representation was adopted by
the latter from the former and the narrative of the temple builder substituted
for that of Dionysus, which was the myth peculiar to the mysteries practised by
the Tyrian workmen.
The idea, therefore, proposed to be communicated in
the myth of the ancient Mysteries was the same as that which is now conveyed in
the Masonic legend of the Third Degree. Hence, then, Hiram Abif is, in the Masonic system, the symbol of human
nature, as developed in the life here and the life to come and so, while the
temple was, as I have heretofore shown, the visible symbol of the world, its
builder became the mythical symbol of man, the dweller and worker in that world.
Now, is not this symbolism evident to every
Man, setting forth on the voyage of life, with
faculties and powers fitting him for the due exercise of the high duties to
whose performance he has been called, holds, if he be "a curious and cunning workman,”
hakam iodea binah, "a cunning man, endued with understanding," is the
description given by the king of Tyre of Hiram Abif. See 2 Chron. ii. 13. It is
needless to say that "cunning" is a good old Saxon word meaning
skilled in all moral and
intellectual purposes (and it is only of such men that the temple builder can be
the symbol), within the grasp of his attainment the knowledge of all that divine
truth imparted to him as the heirloom of his race,
that race to whom it has been granted to look, with exalted countenance,
on high, which divine truth is symbolized by the WORD.
cum spectent animalia cætera terram;
Os homini sublime dedit: coelumque tueri
Jussit, et erectos ad sidera tollere vultus."-----OVID, Met. i. 84.
while the mute creation downward bend
Their sight, and to their earthly mother tend,
Man looks aloft, and with erected eyes
Beholds his own hereditary skies." ---DRYDEN.]
Thus provided with the word of life, he occupies his
time in the construction of a spiritual temple and travels onward in the
faithful discharge of all his duties, laying down his designs upon the trestle
board of the future and invoking the assistance and direction of God.
But is his path always over flowery meads and through
pleasant groves? Is there no hidden foe to obstruct his progress? Is all before
him clear and calm, with joyous sunshine and refreshing zephyrs? Alas! not so.
"Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward." At every
"gate of life"—as the Orientalists have beautifully called the
different ages, he is beset by peril. Temptations allure his youth, misfortunes
darken the pathway of his manhood, and his old age is encumbered with infirmity
and disease. But clothed in the armor of virtue he may resist the temptation; he
may cast misfortunes aside and rise triumphantly above them, but to the last,
the direst, the most inexorable foe of his race, he must eventually yield and
stricken down by death, he sinks prostrate into the grave and is buried in the
rubbish of his sin and human frailty.
Here, then, in
Masonry, is what was called the aphanism , in the ancient Mysteries. The
bitter, but necessary lesson of death has been imparted. The living soul, with
the lifeless body, which encased it, has disappeared and can nowhere be
found. All is darkness, confusion, despair.
Divine truth, the WORD, for a time is lost, and the Master Mason may now
say, in the language of Hutchinson, "I prepare my sepulchre. I make my
grave in the pollution of the earth. I am under the shadow of death."
disappearance, destruction, a perishing, death, from
ἀφανίζω, to remove from one's view, to
conceal," &c.—Schrevel. Lex.]
But if the mythic symbolism ended here, with this
lesson of death, then were the lesson incomplete. That teaching would be vain
and idle, nay, more, it would be corrupt and pernicious, which should stop short
of the conscious and innate instinct for another existence. And hence the
succeeding portions of the legend are intended to convey the sublime symbolism
of a resurrection from the grave and a new birth into a future life. The
discovery of the body, which, in the initiations of the ancient Mysteries, was
called the enuresis, [
"Εῦρεσις, a finding, invention,
discovery."—Schrevel. Lex] and its removal, from the polluted grave into which
it had been cast, to an honored and sacred place within the precincts of the
temple, are all profoundly and beautifully symbolic of that great truth, the
discovery of which was the object of all the ancient initiations, as it is
almost the whole design of Freemasonry, namely, that when man shall have
passed the gates of life and have yielded to the inexorable fiat of death, he
shall then (not in the pictured ritual of an earthly lodge, but in the realities
of that eternal one, of which the former is but an antitype) be raised, at the
omnific word of the Grand Master of the Universe, from time to eternity; from
the tomb of corruption to the chambers of hope; from the darkness of death to
the celestial beams of life and that his disembodied spirit shall be conveyed as
near to the holy of holies of the divine presence as humanity can ever approach
to Deity. Such I conceive to be
the true interpretation of the symbolism of the legend of the Third Degree.
I have said that this mythical history of the temple
builder was universal in all nations and all rites and that in no place and at
no time had it, by alteration, diminution, or addition, acquired any essentially
new or different form, the myth has
always remained the same.
But it is not so with its interpretation. That which
I have just given, and which I conceive to be the correct one, has been very
generally adopted by the Masons of this country. But elsewhere, and by various
writers, other interpretations have been made, very different in their
character, although always agreeing in retaining the general idea of a
resurrection or regeneration, or a restoration of something from an inferior to
a higher sphere or function.
Thus some of the earlier continental writers have
supposed the myth to have been a symbol of the destruction of the Order of the
Templars, looking upon its restoration to its original wealth and dignities as
being prophetically symbolized.
In some of the high
philosophical degrees it is taught that the whole legend refers to the
sufferings and death, with the subsequent resurrection, of Christ. [A
French writer of the last century, speaking of the degree of "Très Parfait
Maitre," says, "C'est ici qu'on voit réellement qu'Hiram n'a été
que le type de Jésus Christ, que le temple et les autres symboles maçonniques
sont des allegories relatives à l'Eglise, à la Foi, et aux bonnes moeurs."—Origine
et Objet de la Franchemaçonnerie, par le F.B. Paris, 1774.]
has the honor of being the earliest philosophical writer on Freemasonry in
England, supposes it to have been intended to embody the idea of the decadence
of the Jewish religion, and the substitution of the Christian in its place and
on its ruins. ["This our order is
a positive contradiction to the Judaic blindness and infidelity, and testifies
our faith concerning the resurrection of the body."—HUTCHINSON, Spirit of
Masonry, lect. ix. p. 101.—The whole lecture is occupied in advancing and
supporting his peculiar theory]
Dr. Oliver, "clarum et venerabile nomen",
thinks that it is typical of the murder of Abel by Cain and that it symbolically
refers to the universal death of our race through Adam, and its restoration to
life in the Redeemer, according to the expression of the apostle, "As in
Adam we all died, so in Christ we all live."
then, it appears that the historical reference of the legend of Speculative
Freemasonry, in all ages of the world, was—to our death in Adam and life in
Christ. What, then, was the origin of our tradition? Or, in other words, to what
particular incident did the legend of initiation refer before the flood? I
conceive it to have been the offering and assassination of Abel by his brother
Cain; the escape of the murderer; the discovery of the body by his disconsolate
parents, and its subsequent interment, under a certain belief of its final
resurrection from the dead, and of the detection and punishment of Cain by
divine vengeance."—OLIVER, Historical Landmarks of Freemasonry, vol. ii.
Ragon makes Hiram a symbol of the sun shorn of its
vivifying rays and fructifying power by the three winter months, and its
restoration to generative heat by the season of spring.
grade de Maître va donc nous retracer allegoriquement la mort du dieu-lumière—mourant
en hiver pour reparaître et ressusciter au printemps."—RAGON, Cours
Philos. et Interp. des Init. p. 158].
And, finally, Des Etangs, adopting, in part, the
interpretation of Ragon, adds to it another, which he calls the moral symbolism
of the legend and supposes that Hiram is no other than eternal reason, whose
enemies are the vices that deprave and destroy humanity.
l'ordre moral, Hiram n'est autre chose que la raison éternelle, par qui tout
est pondéré, réglé, conservé."—DES ETANGS, Œuvres Maçonniques, p.
To each of these interpretations it seems to me that
there are important objections, though perhaps to some less so than to others.
As to those who seek for an astronomical
interpretation of the legend, in which the annual changes of the sun are
symbolized, while the ingenuity with which they press their argument, cannot but
be admired, it is evident that, by such an interpretation, they yield all that
Masonry has gained of religious development in past ages, and fall back upon
that corruption and perversion of Sabaism from which it was the object, even of
the Spurious Freemasonry of antiquity, to rescue its disciples.
interpretation of the myth must at once be discarded if we would avoid the
difficulties of anachronism, unless we deny that the legend existed before the
abolition of the Order of Knights Templar, and such denial would be fatal to the
antiquity of Freemasonry.
same argument would I meet the hypothesis that Hiram was the representative of
Charles I. of England—an hypothesis now so generally abandoned, that I have
not thought it worth noticing in the text.]
And as to the adoption of the Christian reference, Hutchinson,
and after him Oliver, profoundly philosophical as are the Masonic
speculations of both, have, I am constrained to believe, fallen into a great
error in calling the Master Mason's degree a Christian institution. It is
true that it embraces within its scheme the great truths of Christianity upon
the subject of the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body, but
this was to be presumed, because Freemasonry is truth, and Christianity is
truth, and all truth must be identical. But the origin of each is different;
their histories are dissimilar. The institution of Freemasonry preceded the
advent of Christianity. Its symbols and its legends are derived from the
Solomonic temple, and from the people even anterior to that. Its religion comes
from the ancient priesthood. Its faith was that primitive one of Noah and
his immediate descendants. If Masonry were simply a Christian institution,
the Jew and the Moslem, the Brahmin and the Buddhist, could not conscientiously
partake of its illumination; but its universality is its boast. In its language
citizens of every nation may converse; at its altar men of all religions may
kneel, to its creed disciples of every faith may subscribe.
Yet it cannot be denied, that since the advent of
Christianity a Christian element has been almost imperceptibly infused into
the Masonic system, at least among Christian Masons. This has been a
necessity; for it is the tendency of every predominant religion to pervade with
its influences all that surrounds it, or is about it, whether religious,
political, or social. This arises from a need of the human heart. To the man
deeply imbued with the spirit of his religion, there is an almost unconscious
desire to accommodate and adapt all the business and the amusements of life, the
labors and the employments of his every day existence, to the indwelling faith
of his soul.
The Christian Mason, therefore, while acknowledging
and justly appreciating the great doctrines taught in Masonry, and while
grateful that these doctrines were preserved in the bosom of his ancient order
at a time when they were unknown to the multitudes of the surrounding nations,
is still anxious to give to them a Christian character, to invest them, in some
measure, with the peculiarities of his own creed, and to bring the
interpretation of their symbolism more nearly home to his own religious
The feeling is an instinctive one, belonging to the
noblest aspirations of our human nature; and hence we find Christian Masonic
writers indulging in it almost to an unwarrantable excess, and by the extent of
their sectarian interpretations materially affecting the cosmopolitan character
of the institution.
This tendency to Christianization has, in some
instances, been so universal, and has prevailed for so long a period, that
certain symbols and myths have been, in this way, so deeply and thoroughly
imbued with the Christian element as to leave those who have not penetrated into
the cause of this peculiarity, in doubt whether they should attribute to the
symbol an ancient or a modern and Christian origin.
As an illustration of the idea here advanced, and as
a remarkable example of the result of a gradually Christianized interpretation
of a Masonic symbol, I will refer to the subordinate myth (subordinate, I mean,
to the great legend of the Builder), which relates the circumstances connected
with the grave upon "the brow of a small hill near Mount Moriah."
Now, the myth or legend of a grave is a legitimate
deduction from the symbolism of the ancient Spurious Masonry. It is the analogue
of the Pastos, Couch, or Coffin, which was to be found in the ritual of all the
pagan Mysteries. In all these initiations, the aspirant was placed in a cell or
upon a couch, in darkness, and for a period varying, in the different rites,
from the three days of the Grecian Mysteries to the fifty of the Persian. This
cell or couch, technically called the "pastos," was adopted as a
symbol of the being whose death and resurrection or apotheosis, was represented
in the legend.
The learned Faber says that this ceremony was
doubtless the same as the descent into Hades and that, when the aspirant
entered into the mystic cell, he was directed to lay himself down upon the bed
which shadowed out the tomb of the Great Father, or Noah, to whom, it will be
recollected, that Faber refers all the ancient rites. "While stretched
upon the holy couch," he continues to remark, "in imitation of his
figurative deceased prototype, he was said to be wrapped in the deep sleep of
death. His resurrection from the bed was his restoration to life or his
regeneration into a new world."
initiation into the Mysteries," he says, "scenically represented the
mythic descent into Hades and the return from thence to the light of day; by
which was meant the entrance into the Ark and the subsequent liberation from its
dark enclosure. Such Mysteries were established in almost every part of the
pagan world; and those of Ceres were substantially the same as the Orgies of
Adonis, Osiris, Hu, Mithras, and the Cabiri. They all equally related to the
allegorical disappearance, or death, or descent of the great father at their
commencement, and to his invention, or revival, or return from Hades, at their
conclusion."—Origin of Pagan Idolatry, vol. iv. b. iv. ch. v. p.
384—But this Arkite theory, as it is called, has not met with the general
approbation of subsequent writers.]
Now, it is easy to see how readily such a symbolism
would be seized by the Temple Masons and appropriated at once to the grave at
the brow of the hill. At first, the interpretation, like that from which it
had been derived, would be cosmopolitan; it would fit exactly to the general
dogmas of the resurrection of the body and the immortality of the soul.
But on the advent of Christianity, the spirit of the
new religion being infused into the old Masonic system, the whole symbolism of
the grave was affected by it. The same interpretation of a resurrection or
restoration to life, derived from the ancient "pastos," was, it is
true, preserved; but the facts that Christ himself had come to promulgate to the
multitudes the same consoling dogma, and that Mount Calvary, "the place of
a skull," was the spot where the Redeemer, by his own death and
resurrection, had testified the truth of the doctrine, at once suggested to the
old Christian Masons the idea of Christianizing the ancient symbol.
Let us now examine briefly how that idea has been at
In the first place, it is necessary to identify the
spot where the "newly-made grave" was discovered with Mount Calvary,
the place of the sepulchre of Christ. This can easily be done by a very few,
striking analogies, which will, I conceive, carry conviction to any thinking
Calvary was a small hill. [Mount
Calvary is a small hill or eminence, situated in a westerly direction from that
Mount Moriah on which the temple of Solomon was built. It was originally a
hillock of notable eminence, but has, in modern times, been greatly reduced by
the excavations made in it for the construction of the Church of the Holy
Sepulchre. Buckingham, in his Palestine, p. 283, says, "The present rock,
called Calvary, and enclosed within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, bears
marks, in every part that is naked, of its having been a round nodule of rock
standing above the common level of the surface."]
was situated in a westward direction from the temple, and near Mount Moriah.
was on the direct road from Jerusalem to Joppa, and is thus the very spot where
a weary brother, travelling on that road, would find it convenient to sit down
to rest and refresh himself. [Dr.
Beard, in the Article, "Golgotha," in Kitto's Encyc. of Bib. Lit.,
reasons in a similar method as to the place of the crucifixion, and supposing
that the soldiers, from the fear of a popular tumult, would hurry Jesus to the
most convenient spot for execution, says, "Then the road to Joppa or
Damascus would be most convenient, and no spot in the vicinity would probably be
so suitable as the slight rounded elevation which bore the name of
It was outside the gate of the temple.
has at least one cleft in the rock, or cave, which was the place which
subsequently became the sepulchre of our Lord. But this coincidence need
scarcely to be insisted on, since the whole neighborhood abounds in rocky
clefts, which meet at once the conditions of the Masonic legend.
But to bring this
analogical reasoning before the mind in a more expressive mode, it may be
observed, that if a party of persons were to start forth from the temple at
Jerusalem and travel in a westward direction towards the port of Joppa, Mount
Calvary would be the first hill met with and as it may possibly have been used
as a place of sepulchre, which its name of Golgotha seems to import, we may
suppose it to have been the very spot alluded to in the Third Degree, as the
place where the craftsmen, on their way to Joppa, discovered the evergreen
acacia.[ Some have supposed that
it was so called because it was the place of public execution. Gulgoleth
in Hebrew, or gogultho in Syriac, means a skull]
Having thus traced the analogy, let us look a little
to the symbolism.
Mount Calvary has always retained an important place
in the legendary history of Freemasonry and there are many traditions connected with it that
are highly interesting in their import. One of these traditions is, that it
was the burial-place of Adam, in order, says the old legend, that where he lay,
who effected the ruin of mankind, there also might the Savior of the world
suffer, die, and be buried. Sir R. Torkington, who published a pilgrimage to
Jerusalem in 1517, says that "under the Mount of Calvary is another chapel
of our Blessed Lady and St. John the Evangelist, that was called Golgotha; and
there, right under the mortise of the cross, was found the head of our
[ Quoted in
Oliver, Landmarks, vol. i. p. 587, note]
Golgotha, it will be remembered, means, in Hebrew,
"the place of a skull;" and there may be some connection between this
tradition and the name of Golgotha, by which the Evangelists inform us, that in
the time of Christ, Mount Calvary was known. Calvary, or Calvaria, has the same
signification in Latin.
Another tradition states, that it was in the bowels
of Mount Calvary that Enoch erected his nine arched vault, and deposited on the
foundation stone of Masonry that Ineffable Name, whose investigation, as a
symbol of divine truth, is the great object of Speculative Masonry.
A third tradition details the subsequent discovery of
Enoch's deposit by King Solomon, whilst making excavations in Mount Calvary,
during the building of the temple.
On this hallowed spot was Christ the Redeemer slain
and buried. It was there that, rising on the third day from his sepulchre, he
gave, by that act, the demonstrative evidence of the resurrection of the body
and the immortality of the soul.
And it was on this spot that the same great lesson
was taught in Masonry—the same sublime truth—the development of which
evidently forms the design of the Third or Master Mason's degree.
There is in these analogies a sublime beauty as well
as a wonderful coincidence between the two systems of Masonry and Christianity,
that must, at an early period, have attracted the attention of the Christian
Mount Calvary is consecrated to the Christian as the
place where his crucified Lord gave the last great proof of the second life and
fully established the doctrine of the resurrection,
which he had come to teach. It was the sepulchre of him
captive led captivity,
Who robbed the grave of victory,
And took the sting from death."
It is consecrated to the Mason, also, as the scene of
the euresis, the place of the discovery, where the same consoling
doctrines of the resurrection of the body and the immortality of the soul are
shadowed forth in profoundly symbolic forms.
These great truths constitute the very essence of
Christianity, in which it differs from and excels all religious systems that
preceded it; they constitute, also, the end, aim, and object of all Freemasonry,
but more especially that of the Third Degree, whose peculiar legend,
symbolically considered, teaches nothing more nor less than that there is an
immortal and better part within us, which, as an emanation from that divine
spirit, which pervades all nature, can never die.
The identification of the spot on which this divine
truth was promulgated in both systems, the Christian and the Masonic, affords an
admirable illustration of the readiness with which the religious spirit of the
former may be infused into the symbolism of the latter.
And hence Hutchinson, thoroughly imbued with these Christian views of
Masonry, has called the Master Mason's order a Christian degree, and thus
Christianizes the whole symbolism of its mythical history.
"The Great Father of all, commiserating the
miseries of the world, sent his only Son, who was innocence itself, to teach the
doctrine of salvation, by whom man was raised from the death of sin unto the
life of righteousness, from the tomb of corruption unto the chamber of hope,
from the darkness of despair to the celestial beams of faith and not only
working for us this redemption, but making with us the covenant of regeneration,
whence we are become the children of the Divinity, and inheritors of the realms
"We, Masons, describing the deplorable estate
of religion under the Jewish law, speak in figures: 'Her tomb was in the rubbish
and filth cast forth of the temple, and acacia wove its branches over her
monuments;' akakia being the Greek word for innocence, or being free from sin;
implying that the sins and corruptions of the old law, and devotees of the
Jewish altar, had hid Religion from those who sought her, and she was only to be
found where innocence survived, and under the banner of the Divine Lamb, and, as
to ourselves, professing that we were to be distinguished by our Acacy, or as
true Acacians in our religious faiths and tenets.”
"The acquisition of the doctrine of redemption
is expressed in the typical character of Huramen (I have found it. in Greek),
and by the applications of that name with Masons, it is implied that we have
discovered the knowledge of God and his salvation, and have been redeemed from
the death of sin and the sepulchre of pollution and unrighteousness.
"Thus the Master Mason represents a man, under
the Christian doctrine, saved from the grave of iniquity and raised to the faith
It is in this way that Masonry has, by a sort of
inevitable process (when we look to the religious sentiment of the
interpreters), been Christianized by some of the most illustrious and learned
writers on Masonic science, by such able men as Hutchinson and Oliver in England
and by Harris, by Scott, by Salem Towne, and by several others in this country.
I do not object to the system when the interpretation
is not strained, but is plausible, consistent, and productive of the same
results as in the instance of Mount Calvary, all that I contend for is, that
such interpretations are modern, and that they do not belong to, although they
may often be deduced from, the ancient system.
But the true ancient interpretation of the legend,
the universal Masonic one, for all countries and all ages, undoubtedly was, that
the fate of the temple builder is but figurative of the pilgrimage of man on
earth, through trials and temptations, through sin and sorrow, until his
eventual fall beneath the blow of death and his final and glorious resurrection
to another and an eternal life.
The Sprig of Acacia.
Intimately connected with the legend of the third
degree is the mythical history of the Sprig of Acacia, which we are now to
There is no symbol more interesting to the Masonic
student than the Sprig of Acacia, not only on account of its own peculiar
import, but also because it introduces us to an extensive and delightful field
of research, namely, which embraces the symbolism of sacred plants. In all
the ancient systems of religion, and Mysteries of initiation, there was always
some one plant consecrated, in the minds of the worshippers and participants, by
a peculiar symbolism, and therefore held in extraordinary veneration as a sacred
emblem. Thus the ivy was used in the Mysteries of Dionysus, the myrtle in those
of Ceres, the erica in the Osirian, and the lettuce in the Adonisian. But to
this subject I shall have occasion to refer more fully in a subsequent part of
the present investigation.
Before entering upon an examination of the symbolism
of the Acacia, it will be, perhaps, as well to identify the true plant,
which occupies so important a place in the ritual of Freemasonry.
And here, in passing, I may be permitted to say that
it is a very great error to designate the symbolic plant of Masonry by the name
of "Cassia", an error which undoubtedly arose, originally, from the
very common habit among illiterate people of sinking the sound of the letter a
in the pronunciation of any word of which it constitutes the initial syllable.
Just, for instance, as we constantly hear, in the conversation of the
uneducated, the words pothecary and prentice for apothecary and
apprentice, shall we also find cassia used for acacia.
[ Oliver's idea
(Landmarks, ii. 149) that cassia has, since the year 1730, been
corrupted into acacia, is contrary to all etymological experience. Words
are corrupted, not by lengthening, but by abbreviating them. The uneducated and
the careless are always prone to cut off a syllable, not to add a new one.]
however, this corruption of acacia into cassia has not always been
confined to the illiterate, but the long employment of the corrupted form has at
length introduced it, in some instances, among a few of our writers. Even the
venerable Oliver, although well acquainted with the symbolism of the acacia, and
having written most learnedly upon it, has, at times, allowed himself to use the
objectionable corruption, unwittingly influenced, in all probability, by the too
frequent adoption of the latter word in the English lodges. In America,
but few Masons fall into the error of speaking of the Cassia. The
proper teaching of the Acacia is here well understood.
[And yet I have been surprised
by seeing, once or twice, the word "Cassia" adopted as the name of a
lodge. "Cinnamon" or "sandal wood" would have been as
appropriate, for any masonic meaning or symbolism.]
The cassia of the ancients was, in fact, an
ignoble plant having no mystic meaning and no sacred character, and was never
elevated to a higher function than that of being united, as Virgil informs us,
with other odorous herbs in the formation of a garland,
The poppy's flush, and dill which scents the gale,
Cassia, and hyacinth, and daffodil,
With yellow marigold the chaplet fill.”
[ Eclog. ii. 49. --"Pallentes
violas et summa papavera carpens,
Narcissum et florem jungit benè olentis anethi:
Tum casia, atque aliis intexens suavibus herbis,
Mollia luteola pingit vaccinia, caltha."]
Alston says that the "Cassia lignea of the
ancients was the larger branches of the cinnamon tree, cut off with their bark
and sent together to the druggists, their Cassia fistula, or Syrinx, was the
same cinnamon in the bark only;" but Ruæus says that it also sometimes
denoted the lavender, and sometimes the rosemary.
In Scripture the cassia
is only three times mentioned, twice as the translation of the Hebrew word kiddak,
and once as the rendering of ketzioth, but always as referring to an
aromatic plant which formed a constituent portion of some perfume. [Exod.
xxx. 24, Ezek. xxvii. 9, and Ps. xlv. 8.]
indeed, strong reason for believing that the cassia is only another name for a
coarser preparation of cinnamon, and it is also to be remarked that it did not
grow in Palestine, but was imported from the East.
on the contrary, was esteemed a sacred tree. It is the acacia vera of
Tournefort, and the mimosa nilotica of Linnæus. It grew abundantly in
the vicinity of Jerusalem, where it is still to be found, and is familiar to us
all, in its modern uses at least, as the tree from which the gum arabic of
commerce is obtained.
[ Oliver, it is
true, says, that "there is not the smallest trace of any tree of the kind
growing so far north as Jerusalem" (Landm. ii. 136); but this
statement is refuted by the authority of Lieutenant Lynch, who saw it growing in
great abundance at Jericho, and still farther north.—Exped. to the Dead Sea,
p. 262.—The Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, who is excellent authority, says, "The
Acacia (Shittim) Tree, Al Sunt, is found in Palestine of different varieties; it
looks like the Mulberry tree, attains a great height, and has a hard wood. The
gum which is obtained from it is the gum Arabic."—Descriptive
Geography and Historical Sketch of Palestine, p. 308, Leeser's translation.
Phila., 1850.—Schwarz was for sixteen years a resident of Palestine, and wrote
from personal observation. The testimony of Lynch and Schwarz should, therefore,
forever settle the question of the existence of the acacia in Palestine.]
The acacia, which, in Scripture, is always called shittah
and in the plural shittim, was esteemed a sacred wood among the Hebrews.
Of it Moses was ordered to make the tabernacle, the ark of the covenant, the
table for the showbread and the rest of the sacred furniture. Isaiah, in
recounting the promises of God's mercy to the Israelites on their return from
the captivity, tells them, that, among other things, he will plant in the
wilderness, for their relief and refreshment, the cedar, the acacia (or, as it
is rendered in our common version, the shittah), the fir, and other trees.
[ Calmet, Parkhurst, Gesenius, Clarke, Shaw, and all the best
authorities, concur in saying that the otzi shittim, or shittim wood of
Exodus, was the common acacia or mimosa nilotica of Linnæus.]
The first thing, then, that we notice in this symbol
of the acacia, is, that it had been always consecrated from among the other
trees of the forest by the sacred purposes to which it was devoted. By the
Jew the tree from whose wood the sanctuary of the tabernacle and the holy ark
had been constructed would ever be viewed as more sacred than ordinary trees.
The early Masons, therefore, very naturally appropriated this hallowed plant to
the equally sacred purpose of a symbol which was to teach an important divine
truth in all ages to come.
Having thus briefly disposed of the natural history
of this plant, we may now proceed to examine it in its symbolic relations.
First. The acacia,
in the mystic system of Freemasonry, is preeminently the symbol of the Immortality
Of The Soul, that important
doctrine, which it is the great design of the institution to teach. As the
evanescent nature of the flower which "cometh forth and is cut down"
reminds us of the transitory nature of human life, so the perpetual renovation
of the evergreen plant, which uninterruptedly presents the appearance of youth
and vigor, is aptly compared to that spiritual life in which the soul, freed
from the corruptible companionship of the body, shall enjoy an eternal spring
and an immortal youth. Hence, in the impressive funeral service of our
order, it is said, "This evergreen is an emblem of our faith in the
immortality of the soul. By this we are reminded that we have an immortal part
within us, which shall survive the grave, and which shall never, never, never
die." And again, in the closing sentences of the monitorial lecture
of the Third Degree, the same sentiment is repeated, and we are told that by
"the ever green and ever living sprig" the Mason is strengthened
"with confidence and composure to look forward to a blessed
immortality." Such an interpretation of the symbol is an easy and a
natural one. It suggests itself at once to the least reflective mind, and
consequently, in some one form or another, is to be found existing in all ages
and nations. It was an ancient custom, which is not, even now, altogether
disused, for mourners to carry in their hands at funerals a sprig of some
evergreen, generally the cedar or the cypress, and to deposit it in the grave of
the deceased. According to Dalcho, the Hebrews always planted a sprig of the
acacia at the head of the grave of a departed friend.
custom among the Hebrews arose from this circumstance. Agreeably to their laws,
no dead bodies were allowed to be interred within the walls of the city; and as
the Cohens, or priests, were prohibited from crossing a grave, it was necessary
to place marks thereon, that they might avoid them. For this purpose the acacia
was used."—DALCHO, Oration, p. 27, note.—I object to the reason
assigned by Dalcho; but of the existence of the custom there can be no question,
notwithstanding the denial or doubt of Dr. Oliver. Blount (Travels in the
Levant, p. 197) says, speaking of the Jewish burial customs, "those who
bestow a marble stone over any [grave] have a hole a yard long and a foot broad,
in which they plant an evergreen, which seems to grow from the body, and
is carefully watched." Hasselquist (Travels, p. 28) confirms his
testimony. I borrow the citations from Brown (Antiquities of the Jews,
vol. ii. p. 356), but have verified the reference to Hasselquist. The work of
Blount I have not been enabled to consult.]
Potter tells us that the ancient Greeks "had a
custom of bedecking tombs with herbs and flowers." [
Antiquities of Greece, p. 569.]
sorts of purple and white flowers were acceptable to the dead, but principally
the amaranth and the myrtle. The very name of the former of these plants, which
signifies "never fading," would seem to indicate the true symbolic
meaning of the usage, although archaeologists have generally supposed it to be
simply an exhibition of love on the part of the survivors. Ragon says, that
the ancients substituted the acacia for all other plants because they believed
it to be incorruptible, and not liable to injury from the attacks of any kind of
insect or other animal, thus symbolizing the incorruptible nature of the soul.
Hence, we see the propriety of placing the sprig
of acacia, as an emblem of immortality, among the symbols of that degree, all of
whose ceremonies are intended to teach us the great truth, that "the life
of man, regulated by morality, faith, and justice, will be rewarded at its
closing hour by the prospect of eternal bliss."
Crucefix, MS., quoted by Oliver, Landmarks, ii. 2.]
So, therefore, says Dr. Oliver, when the Master Mason
exclaims, "My name is Acacia," it is equivalent to saying, "I
have been in the grave, I have triumphed over it by rising from the dead, and
being regenerated in the process, I have a claim to life everlasting."
The sprig of acacia, then, in its most ordinary
signification, presents itself to the Master Mason as a symbol of the
immortality of the soul, being intended to remind him, by its evergreen and
unchanging nature, of that better and spiritual part within us, which, as an
emanation from the Grand Architect of the Universe, can never die.
And as this is the most ordinary, the most generally accepted signification, so
also is it the most important, for thus, as the peculiar symbol of
immortality, it becomes the most appropriate to an order all of whose teachings
are intended to inculcate the great lesson that "life rises out of the
grave." But incidental to this the acacia has two other
interpretations, which are well worthy of investigation.
Secondly, then, the acacia is a symbol of Innocence.
The symbolism here is of a peculiar and unusual character, depending not on any
real analogy in the form or use of the symbol to the idea symbolized, but simply
on a double or compound meaning of the word. For Akakia, in the Greek
language, signifies both the plant in question and the moral quality of
innocence or purity of life. In this sense the symbol refers, primarily, to
him over whose solitary grave the acacia was planted, and whose virtuous
conduct, whose integrity of life and fidelity to his trusts, have ever been
presented as patterns to the craft, and consequently to all Master Masons, who,
by this interpretation of the symbol, are invited to emulate his example.
indulging in his favorite theory of Christianizing Masonry, when he comes to
this signification of the symbol, thus enlarges on the interpretation, "We Masons, describing the deplorable estate of religion
under the Jewish law, speak in figures: 'Her tomb was in the rubbish and filth
cast forth of the temple, and Acacia wove its branches over her monument;'
akakia being the Greek word for innocence, or being free from sin; implying that
the sins and corruptions of the old law and devotees of the Jewish altar had hid
Religion from those who sought her, and she was only to be found where innocence
survived, and under the banner of the divine Lamb; and as to ourselves,
professing that we were to be distinguished by our Acacy, or as true Acacians in
our religious faith and tenets.” [Spirit
of Masonry, lect. ix. p. 99.]
Among the nations of antiquity, it was common thus by
peculiar plants to symbolize the virtues and other qualities of the mind.
In many instances the symbolism has been lost to the moderns, but in others it
has been retained, and is well understood, even at the present day. Thus the
olive was adopted as the symbol of peace, because, says Lee, "its oil is
very useful, in some way or other, in all arts manual which principally flourish
in times of peace.”[ . The Temple
of Solomon, ch. ix. p. 233]
The quince among the
Greeks was the symbol of love and happiness [It
is probable that the quince derived this symbolism, like the acacia, from its
name; for there seems to be some connection between the Greek word ϗυδώνιος,
which means a quince, and the participle ϗυδίων,
which signifies rejoicing, exulting. But this must have been an
afterthought, for the name is derived from Cydon, in Crete, of which island the
quince is a native.] and hence, by the laws of Solon, in Athenian marriages, the bride and
bridegroom were required to eat a quince together.
The palm was the
symbol of victory and hence, in the catacombs of Rome, the burial-place of so
many of the early Christians, the palm leaf is constantly found as an emblem of
the Christian's triumph over sin and death.[ Desprez, speaking of the palm as an emblem of victory, says (Comment.
in Horat. Od. I. i. 5), "Palma verò signum victoriae passim apud omnes
statuitur, ex Plutarcho, propterea quod ea est ejus natura ligni, ut urgentibus
opprimentibusque minimè cedat. Unde est illud Alciati epigramma,
in pondus palma, et consurgit in altum:
Quoque magis premitur, hoc magè tollit onus.'"
It is in the eighth book of his Symposia
that Plutarch states this peculiar property of the palm to resist the oppression
of any superincumbent weight, and to rise up against it, whence it was adopted
as the symbol of victory. Cowley also alludes to it in his Davideis.
did he know how palms by oppression speed
Victorious, and the vctor's sacred meed."]
The rosemary was a symbol of remembrance, and hence
was used both at marriages and at funerals, the memory of the past being equally
appropriate in both rites.
was anciently supposed to strengthen the memory, and was not only carried at
funerals, but worn at weddings."—STEEVENS, Notes on Hamlet, a. iv.
s. 5.—Douce (Illustrations of Shakspeare, i. 345) gives the following
old song in reference to this subject:—
is for remembrance
Betweene us daie and night,
Wishing that I might always have
You present in my sight."]
The parsley was consecrated to grief; and hence all
the Greeks decked their tombs with it; and it was used to crown the conquerors
in the Nemean games, which were of a funereal character.
Croix (Recherches sur les Mystères, i. 56) says that in the Samothracian
Mysteries it was forbidden to put parsley on the table, because, according to
the mystagogues, it had been produced by the blood of Cadmillus, slain by his
But it is needless to multiply instances of this
symbolism. In adopting the acacia as a symbol of innocence, Masonry has but
extended the principle of an ancient and universal usage, which thus consecrated
particular plants, by a mystical meaning, to the representation of particular
But lastly, the acacia is to be considered as the
symbol of Initiation. This is by far the most interesting of its
interpretations and was, we have every reason to believe, the primary and
original, the others being but incidental. It leads us at once to the
investigation of that significant fact to which I have already alluded, that in
all the ancient initiations and religious mysteries there was some plant,
peculiar to each, which was consecrated by its own esoteric meaning and which
occupied an important position in the celebration of the rites, so that the
plant, whatever it might be, from its constant and prominent use in the
ceremonies of initiation, came at length to be adopted as the symbol of that
A reference to some of these sacred plants,
for such was the character they assumed and
an investigation of their symbolism will not, perhaps, be uninteresting or
useless, in connection with the subject of the present article.
In the Mysteries of Adonis, which originated in
Phoenicia and were afterwards transferred to Greece, the death and resurrection
of Adonis was represented. A part of the legend accompanying these mysteries was, that when Adonis
was slain by a wild boar, Venus laid out the body on a bed of lettuce. In
memorial of this supposed fact, on the first day of the celebration, when
funeral rites were performed, lettuces were carried in the procession, newly
planted in shells of earth. Hence, the lettuce became the sacred plant of the
Adonia, or Adonisian Mysteries.
The lotus was the
sacred plant of the Brahminical rites of India, and was considered as the symbol
of their elemental trinity, earth, water, and air, because, as an aquatic plant,
it derived its nutriment from all of these elements combined, its roots being
planted in the earth, its stem rising through the water and its leaves exposed
to the air.
says Faber, "represent their mundane lotus, as having four large leaves and
four small leaves placed alternately, while from the centre of the flower rises
a protuberance. Now, the circular cup formed by the eight leaves they deem a
symbol of the earth, floating on the surface of the ocean, and consisting of
four large continents and four intermediate smaller islands; while the centrical
protuberance is viewed by them as representing their sacred Mount Menu."—Communication
to Gent. Mag. vol. lxxxvi. p. 408.]
The Egyptians, who borrowed a large portion of their
religious rites from the East, adopted the lotus, which was also indigenous to
their country, as a mystical plant, and made it the symbol of their initiation,
or the birth into celestial light. Hence, as Champollion observes, they often on
their monuments represented the god Phre, or the sun, as borne within the
expanded calyx of the lotus. The lotus bears a flower similar to that of the
poppy, while its large, tongue-shaped leaves float upon the surface of the
water. As the Egyptians had remarked that the plant expands when the sun rises,
and closes when it sets, they adopted it as a symbol of the sun and as that
luminary was the principal object of the popular worship, the lotus became in
all their sacred rites a consecrated and mystical plant.
The Egyptians also selected the Erica or
heath, as a sacred plant.[The erica
arborea or tree heath.] The origin of the consecration of this plant presents
us with a singular coincidence, that will be peculiarly interesting to the
Masonic student. We are informed that there was a legend in the mysteries of
Osiris, which related, that Isis, when in search of the body of her murdered
husband, discovered it interred at the brow of a hill, near which an erica, or
heath plant, grew; and hence, after the recovery of the body and the
resurrection of the god, when she established the mysteries to commemorate her
loss and her recovery, she adopted the erica, as a sacred plant,
alludes to this mystical event: "Isis found the body of Osiris in the
neighborhood of Biblos, and near a tall plant called the erica. Oppressed
with grief, she seated herself on the margin of a fountain, whose waters issued
from a rock. This rock is the small hill mentioned in the ritual; the
erica has been replaced by the acacia, and the grief of Isis has been changed
for that of the fellow crafts."—Cours des Initiations, p. 151.]
in memory of its having pointed out the spot where
the mangled remains of Osiris were concealed.
It is singular, and perhaps significant, that the word eriko, in Greek,
ἐρίϗω, whence erica is probably derived, means
to break in pieces, to mangle.]
The mistletoe was the sacred plant of
Druidism. Its consecrated character was derived from a legend of the
Scandinavian mythology and which is thus related in the Edda, or sacred books.
The god Balder, the son of Odin, having dreamed that he was in some great danger
of life, his mother, Friga, exacted an oath from all the creatures of the
animal, the vegetable, and the mineral kingdoms, that they would do no harm to
her son. The mistletoe, contemptible from its size and weakness, was alone
neglected and of it no oath of immunity was demanded. Lok, the evil genius, or
god of Darkness, becoming acquainted with this fact, placed an arrow made of
mistletoe in the hands of Holder, the blind brother of Balder, on a certain day,
when the gods were throwing missiles at him in sport, and wondering at their
inability to do him injury with any arms with which they could attack him. But,
being shot with the mistletoe arrow, it inflicted a fatal wound, and Balder
died. Ever afterwards the mistletoe was revered as a sacred plant, consecrated
to the powers of darkness and annually it became an important rite among the
Druids to proceed into the forest in search of the mistletoe, which, being
found, was cut down by the Arch Druid, and its parts, after a solemn sacrifice,
were distributed among the people. Clavel very ingeniously remarks, that it is
evident, in reference to the legend, that as Balder symbolizes the Sun-god, and
Lok, Darkness, this search for the mistletoe was intended to deprive the god of
Darkness of the power of destroying the god of Light.[ Histoire
Pittoresque des Religions, t. i. p. 217.]
the distribution of the fragments of the mistletoe among their pious
worshippers, was to assure them that henceforth a similar attempt of Lok would
prove abortive and he was thus deprived of the means of effecting his design.
Toland (Works, i. 74), the festival of searching, cutting, and
consecrating the mistletoe, took place on the 10th of March, or New Year's day.
"This," he says, "is the ceremony to which Virgil alludes, by his
golden branch, in the Sixth Book of the Æneid." No doubt of it; for
all these sacred plants had a common origin in some ancient and general symbolic
performed the same office of symbolism in the Mysteries of Greece as the lotus
did in Egypt, or the mistletoe among the Druids. The candidate, in these
initiations, was crowned with myrtle, because, according to the popular
theology, the myrtle was sacred to Proserpine, the goddess of the future life.
Every classical scholar will remember the golden branch with which Aeneas was
supplied by the Sibyl, before proceeding on his journey to the infernal region,
a voyage which is now universally admitted to be a mythical representation of
the ceremonies of initiation.
["Under this branch is figured the wreath of myrtle, with which the
initiated were crowned at the celebration of the Mysteries."—WARBURTON, Divine
Legation, vol. i. p. 299.]
In all of these ancient Mysteries, while the sacred
plant was a symbol of initiation, the initiation itself was symbolic of the
resurrection to a future life, and of the immortality of the soul. In this view,
Freemasonry is to us now in the place of the ancient initiations and the acacia
is substituted for the lotus, the erica, the ivy, the mistletoe, and the myrtle.
The lesson of wisdom is the same; the medium of imparting it is all that has
Returning, then, to the acacia, we find that it is
capable of three explanations. It is a symbol of immortality, of innocence, and
of initiation. But these three significations are closely connected, and that
connection must be observed, if we desire to obtain a just interpretation of the
symbol. Thus, in this one symbol, we are taught that in the initiation of life,
of which the initiation in the third-degree is simply emblematic, innocence must
for a time lie in the grave, at length, however, to be called, by the word of
the Grand Master of the Universe, to a blissful immortality. Combine with this
the recollection of the place where the sprig of acacia was planted and which I
have heretofore shown to be Mount Calvary, the place of sepulture of Him who
"brought life and immortality to light," and who, in Christian
Masonry, is designated, as he is in Scripture, as "the lion of the tribe of
Judah," and remember, too, that in the mystery of his death, the wood of
the cross takes the place of the acacia and in this little and apparently
insignificant symbol, but which is really and truly the most important and
significant one in Masonic science, we have a beautiful suggestion of all the
mysteries of life and death, of time and eternity, of the present and of the
future. Thus read (and thus all our symbols should be read), Masonry proves
something more to its disciples than a mere social society or a charitable
association. It becomes a "lamp to our feet," whose spiritual light
shines on the darkness of the deathbed and dissipates the gloomy shadows of the
The Symbolism of Labour.
It is one of the most beautiful features of the
Masonic Institution, that it teaches not only the necessity, but the nobility,
of labor. Among the earliest of the implements in whose emblematic use it
instructs its neophytes is the Trestle Board, the acknowledged symbol of
the Divine Law, in accordance with whose decree labor was originally instituted
as the common lot of all and therefore the important lesson that is closely
connected with this symbol is, that to labor well and truly, to labor honestly
and persistently, is the object and the chief end of all humanity.
To work out well the task that is set before us is
our highest duty, and should constitute our greatest happiness. All men, then,
must have their trestle boards; for the principles that guide us in the
discharge of our duty, the schemes that we devise, the plans that we propose are
but the trestle board, whose designs we follow, for good or for evil, in our
labor of life.
Earth works with every coming spring and within its
prolific bosom designs the bursting seed, the tender plant and the finished
tree, upon its trestle board.
Old ocean works forever, restless and murmuring, but
still bravely working and storms and tempests, the purifiers of stagnant nature,
are inscribed upon its trestle board.
And God himself, the Grand Architect, the Master
Builder of the world, has labored from eternity; and working by his omnipotent
will, he inscribes his plans upon illimitable space, for the universe is his
There was a saying of the monks of old which is well
worth meditation. They taught that "laborare est orare"—labor
is worship. They did not, it is true, always practise the wise precept.
They did not always make labor a part of their religion. Like Onuphrius, who
lived threescore years and ten in the desert, without human voice or human
sympathy to cheer him, because he had not learned that man was made for man,
those old ascetics went into the wilderness, and built cells, and occupied
themselves in solitary meditation and profitless thought. They prayed much, but
they did no work. And thus they passed their lives, giving no pity, aid, or
consolation to their fellow-men, adding no mite to the treasury of human
knowledge and leaving the world, when their selfish pilgrimage was finished,
without a single contribution, in labor of mind or body, to its welfare.
the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread." Gen. iii. 19. Bush interprets
the decree to mean that "some species of toilsome occupation is the
appointed lot of all men."]
And men, seeing the uselessness of these ascetic
lives, shrink now from their example and fall back upon that wiser teaching,
that he best does God's will, who best does God's work.
The world now knows that heaven is not served by man's idleness, that the
"dolce far niente," though it might suit an Italian
lazzaroni, is not fit for a brave Christian man, and that they who would do
rightly, and act well their part, must take this distich for their motto,
this hand work, and with the other pray,
And God will bless them both from day to day."
Now, this doctrine, that labor is worship, is the
very doctrine that has been advanced and maintained, from time immemorial, as a
leading dogma of the Order of Freemasonry. There is no other human institution under
the sun, which has set forth this great principle in such bold relief. We hear
constantly of Freemasonry as an institution that inculcates morality, that
fosters the social feeling, that teaches brotherly love and all this is well,
because it is true. But we must never forget that from its foundation-stone to
its pinnacle, all over its vast temple, is inscribed, in symbols of living
light, the great truth that labor is worship.
It has been supposed that, because we speak of
Freemasonry as a speculative system, it has nothing to do with the practical.
But this is a most grievous error. Freemasonry is, it is true, a speculative
science, but it is a speculative science based upon an operative art. All its
symbols and allegories refer to this connection. Its very language is borrowed
from the art and it is singularly suggestive that the initiation of a candidate
into its mysteries is called, in its peculiar phraseology, work.
I repeat that this expression is singularly
suggestive. When the lodge is engaged in reading petitions, hearing reports,
debating financial matters, it is said to be occupied in business, but
when it is engaged in the form and ceremony of initiation into any of the
degrees, it is said to be at work. Initiation is Masonic labor. This
phraseology at once suggests the connection of our speculative system with an
operative art that preceded it, and upon which it has been founded. This
operative art must have given it form and features and organization. If the
speculative system had been founded solely on philosophical or ethical
principles, if it had been derived from some ancient or modern sect of
philosophers, from the Stoics, the Epicureans, or the Platonists of the heathen
world, or from any of the many divisions of the scholastics of the middle ages,
this origin would most certainly have affected its interior organization as well
as its external form and we should have seen our modern Masonic reunions
assuming the style of academies or schools. Its technical language for, like
every institution isolated from the ordinary and general pursuits of mankind, it
would have had its own technical dialect would have been borrowed from and would
be easily traced to, the peculiar phraseology of the philosophic sects which had
given it birth. There would have been the sophists and the philosophers, the
grammatists and the grammarians, the scholars, the masters, and the doctors. It
would have had its trivial and its quadrivial schools, its occupation would have
been research, experiment, or investigation; in a word, its whole features would
have been colored by a grammatical, a rhetorical, or a mathematical cast,
accordingly as it should have been derived from a sect in which any one of these
three characteristics was the predominating influence.
But in the
organization of Freemasonry, as it now presents itself to us, we see an entirely
different appearance. Its degrees are expressive, not of advancement in
philosophic attainments, but of progress in a purely mechanical pursuit. Its
highest grade is that of Master of the Work. Its places of meeting are
not schools, but lodges, places where the workmen formerly lodged, in the
neighborhood of the building on whose construction they were engaged. It does
not form theories, but builds temples. It knows nothing of the rules of the
dialecticians, of the syllogism, the dilemma, the enthymeme, or the sorites, but
it recurs to the homely implements of its operative parent for its methods of
instruction and with the plumb-line it inculcates rectitude of conduct, and
draws lessons of morality from the workman's square. It sees in the Supreme God
that it worships, not a "numen divinum," a divine power, nor a "moderator
rerum omnium," a controller of all things, as the old philosophers
designated him, but a Grand Architect of the Universe. The Masonic idea
of God refers to Him as the Mighty Builder of this terrestrial globe, and all
the countless worlds that surround it. He is not the ens entium, or to
theion, or any other of the thousand titles with which ancient and modern
speculation has invested him, but simply the Architect, as the Greeks have it,
the ἀρχὸς, the chief workman, under whom we are all
workmen also and hence our labor is his worship.
Aristotle says, "He that cannot contract society with others, or who,
through his own self-sufficiency
αὐτάρϗειαν, does not need
it, forms no part of the community, but is either a wild beast or a god."
"Der Arbeiter," says Lenning, "ist der symbolische Name eines
Freimaurers"—the Workman is the symbolic name of a Freemason.—Encyclop.
This idea, then, of Masonic labor, is closely
connected with the history of the organization of the institution. When we say
"the lodge is at work," we recognize that it is in the legitimate
practice of that occupation for which it was originally intended. The Masons
that are in it are not occupied in thinking, or speculating, or reasoning, but
simply and emphatically in working. The duty of a Mason as such, in his lodge,
is to work. Thereby he accomplishes the destiny of his Order. Thereby he best
fulfils his obligation to the Grand Architect, for with the Mason laborare
est orare, labor is worship.
The importance of Masonic labor being thus
demonstrated, the question next arises as to the nature of that labor. What
is the work that a Mason is called upon to perform?
Temple building was the original occupation of our
ancient brethren. Leaving out of view that system of ethics and of religious philosophy,
that search after truth, those doctrines of the unity of God and the immortality
of the soul, which alike distinguish the ancient Mysteries and the Masonic
institution and which both must have derived from a common origin, most probably
from some priesthood of the olden time, let our attention be exclusively
directed, for the present, to that period, so familiar to every Mason, when,
under the supposed Grand Mastership of King Solomon, Freemasonry first assumed
"a local habitation and a name" in the holy city of Jerusalem.
There the labor of the Israelites and the skill of the Tyrians were occupied in
the construction of that noble temple whose splendor and magnificence of
decoration made it one of the wonders of the world.
Here, then, we see the two united nations directing
their attention, with surprising harmony, to the task of temple building. The
Tyrian workmen, coming immediately from the bosom of the mystical society of
Dionysian artificers, whose sole employment was the erection of sacred edifices
throughout all Asia Minor, indoctrinated the Jews with a part of their
architectural skill, and bestowed upon them also a knowledge of those sacred
Mysteries which they had practised at Tyre, and from which the present interior
form of Freemasonry is said to be derived.
Now, if there be any so incredulous as to refuse
their assent to the universally received Masonic tradition on this subject, if
there be any who would deny all connection of King Solomon with the origin of
Freemasonry, except it be in a mythical or symbolical sense, such incredulity
will, not at all affect the chain of argument, which I am disposed to use. For
it will not be denied that the corporations of builders in the middle ages,
those men who were known as "Travelling Freemasons," were substantial
and corporeal and that the cathedrals, abbeys, and palaces, whose ruins are
still objects of admiration to all observers, bear conclusive testimony, that
their existence was nothing like a myth and that their labors were not
apocryphal. But these Travelling Freemasons, whether led into the error, if
error it be, by a mistaken reading of history, or by a superstitious reverence
for tradition, always esteemed King Solomon as the founder of their Order. So
that the first absolutely historical details that we have of the Masonic
institution, connect it with the idea of a temple. And it is only for this idea
that I contend, for it proves that the first Freemasons of whom we have
authentic record, whether they were at Jerusalem or in Europe, and whether they
flourished a thousand years before or a thousand years after the birth of
Christ, always supposed that temple building was the peculiar specialty of their
craft and that their labor was to be the erection of temples in ancient times
and cathedrals and churches in the Christian age.
So that we come back at last to the proposition with
which I had commenced, namely, that temple building was the original occupation
of our ancient brethren. And to this is added the fact, that after a long lapse
of centuries, a body of men is found in the middle ages, who were universally
recognized as Freemasons and who directed their attention and their skill to the
same pursuit and were engaged in the construction of cathedrals, abbeys, and
other sacred edifices, these being the Christian substitute for the heathen or
the Jewish temple. And therefore, when we view the history of the Order as
thus developed in its origin and its design, we are justified in saying that, in
all times past, its members have been recognized as men of labor and that their
labor has been temple building.
But our ancient brethren wrought in both operative
and speculative Masonry, while we work only in speculative. They worked with the
hand; we work with the brain. They dealt in the material; we in the spiritual.
They used in their labor wood and stones, we use thoughts and feelings and
affections. We both devote ourselves to labor, but the object of the labor and
the mode of the labor are different.
The French rituals have given us the key-note to
the explanation of what is Masonic labor when they say that "Freemasons
erect temples for virtue and dungeons for vice."
Freemasons, like the Masons of old, are engaged in the construction of a temple,
but with this difference, that the temple of the latter was material, that of
the former spiritual. When the operative art was the predominant characteristic
of the Order, Masons were engaged in the construction of material and earthly
temples. But when the operative art ceased, and the speculative science took its place, then
the Freemasons symbolized the labors of their predecessors by engaging in the
construction of a spiritual temple in their hearts, which was to be made so pure
that it might become the dwelling-place of Him, who is all purity. It was to be
"a house not made with hands," where the hewn stone was to be a
This symbolism, which represents man as a temple, a
house, a sacred building in which God is to dwell, is not new, nor peculiar to
the Masonic science. It was known to the Jewish, and is still recognized by the Christian,
system. The Talmudists had a saying that the threefold repetition of the
words "Temple of Jehovah," in the seventh chapter and fourth verse of
the book of Jeremiah, was intended to allude to the existence of three temples
and hence in one of their treatises it is said, "Two temples have been
destroyed, but the third will endure forever," in which it is manifest that
they referred to the temple of the immortal soul in man.
By a similar allusion, which, however, the Jews chose
wilfully to misunderstand, Christ declared, "Destroy this temple, and in
three days I will raise it up." And the beloved disciple, who records the
conversation, does not allow us to doubt of the Saviour's meaning.
the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it
up in three days? "But
he spake of the temple of his body.” [John
In more than one place the apostle Paul has
fondly dwelt upon this metaphor. Thus he tells the Corinthians that they are
"God's building," and he calls himself the "wise master
builder," who was to lay the foundation in his truthful doctrine, upon
which they were to erect the edifice.
[I Corinth, iii. 9.]
And he says to them immediately afterwards, "Know ye not
that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?"
In consequence of
these teachings of the apostles, the idea that the body was a temple has
pervaded, from the earliest times to the present day, the system of Christian or
theological symbolism. Indeed, it has sometimes been carried to an almost too fanciful excess.
Thus Samuel Lee, in that curious and rare old work, "The Temple
of Solomon, pourtrayed by Scripture Light," thus dilates on this
symbolism of the temple, "The foundation of this temple may
be laid in humility and contrition of spirit, wherein the inhabiter of eternity
delighteth to dwell; we may refer the porch to the mouth of a saint,
wherein every holy Jacob erects the pillars of God's praise, calling upon
and blessing his name for received mercies; when songs of deliverance are
uttered from the doors of his lips. The holy place is the renewed
mind, and the windows therein may denote divine illumination from above,
cautioning a saint lest they be darkened with the smoke of anger, the mist of
grief, the dust of vain-glory, or the filthy mire of worldly cares. The golden
candlesticks, the infused habits of divine knowledge resting within the
soul. The shew-bread, the word of grace exhibited in the promises for the
preservation of a Christian's life and glory. The golden altar of odors,
the breathings, sufferings, and groanings after God, ready to break forth into
Abba, Father. The veiles, the righteousness of Christ. The holy of
holies may relate to the conscience purified from dead works and brought
into a heavenly frame.” [Orbis
Miraculum, or the Temple of Solomon, pourtrayed by Scripture Light, ch. ix. p.
192. London, 1659.]
And thus he
proceeds, symbolizing every part and utensil of the temple as alluding to some
emotion or affection of man, but in language too tedious for quotation.
In a similar vein has the celebrated John Bunyan,
the author of the "Pilgrim's Progress" proceeded in his
"Temple of Solomon Spiritualized" to refer every part of that
building to a symbolic meaning, selecting, however, the church, or congregation
of good men, rather than the individual man, as the object of the symbolism.
In the middle ages the Hermetic philosophers seem to
have given the same interpretation of the temple and Swedenborg, in his mystical
writings, adopts the idea.
Hitchcock, who has written an admirable little work
on Swedenborg considered as a Hermetic Philosopher, thus alludes to this
subject, and his language, as that of a learned and shrewd investigator, is well
worthy of quotation, "With,
perhaps, the majority of readers, the Tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of
Solomon were mere buildings; very magnificent indeed, but still mere buildings
for the worship of God. But some are struck with many portions of the
account of their erection, admitting a moral interpretation; and while the
buildings are allowed to stand (or to have stood once) visible objects, these
interpreters are delighted to meet with indications that Moses and Solomon, in
building the temples, were wise in the knowledge of God and of man; from which
point it is not difficult to pass on to the moral meaning altogether, and to
affirm that the building which was erected without 'the noise of a hammer or
axe, or any tool of iron,' was altogether a moral building, a building of God,
not made with hands: in short, many see in the story of Solomon's temple a
symbolical representation of MAN as the temple of God, with its holy of
holies deep-seated in the centre of the human heart.”
a Hermetic Philosopher, &c., p. 210. The object of the author is to show
that the Swedish sage was an adept, and that his writings may be interpreted
from the point of view of Hermetic philosophy.]
The French Masons have not been inattentive to this
symbolism. Their already quoted expression that the "Freemasons build
temples for virtue and dungeons for vice," has very clearly a reference to
it, and their most distinguished writers never lose sight of it.
Ragon, one of the most learned of the French historians of Freemasonry, in
his lecture to the Apprentice, says that the founders of our Order "called
themselves Masons, and proclaimed that they were building a temple to truth and
Philosophique et Interprétatif des Initiations Anciennes et Modernes, p. 99.]
subsequently he addresses the candidate who has received the Master's degree in
the following language , "Profit by all that has been revealed to you.
Improve your heart and your mind. Direct your passions to the general good;
combat your prejudices; watch over your thoughts and your actions; love,
enlighten, and assist your brethren; and you will have perfected that temple
of which you are at once the architect, the material, and the workman."[
Ibid., p. 176]
French historian of great erudition, says, "If Freemasonry has ceased to erect
temples, and by the aid of its architectural designs to elevate all hearts to
the Deity, and all eyes and hopes to heaven, it has not therefore desisted from
its work of moral and intellectual building;" and he thinks that the
success of the institution has justified this change of purpose and the
disruption of the speculative from the operative character of the Order. [Histoire
Générale de la Franc-maçonnerie, p. 52.]
who has written abstrusely and mystically on Freemasonry and its collateral
sciences, sees very clearly an allegorical and a real design in the
institution, the former being the rebuilding of the temple of Solomon, and the
latter the improvement of the human race by a reconstruction of its social and
[Histoire de la
Magie, liv. v. ch. vii. p. 100.]
The Masons of Germany have elaborated this idea
with all the exhaustiveness that is peculiar to the German mind and the Masonic
literature of that country abounds in essays, lectures, and treatises, in
which the prominent topic is this building of the Solomonic temple as referring
to the construction of a moral temple.
Thus writes Bro.
Rhode, of Berlin, "So
soon as any one has received the consecration of our Order, we say to him that
we are building a mystical temple;" and he adds that "this temple
which we Masons are building is nothing else than that which will conduce to the
greatest possible happiness of mankind.”
[Vorlesung über das Symbol des Tempels, in the "Jarbüchern der
Gross. Loge Roy. York zur Freundschaft," cited by Lenning, Encyc., voc. Tempel.]
And another German
brother, Von Wedekind, asserts that "we only labor in our temple
when we make man our predominating object, when we unite goodness of heart with
polished manners, truth with beauty, virtue with grace.”
In an Essay on the Masonic Idea of Man's Destination, cited by Lenning, ut
supra, from the Altenburg Zeitschift der Freimaurerei.]
Again we have Reinhold
telling us, in true Teutonic expansiveness of expression, that "by
the mystical Solomonic temple we are to understand the high ideal or archetype
of humanity in the best possible condition of social improvement, wherein every
evil inclination is overcome, every passion is resolved into the spirit of love,
and wherein each for all, and all for each, kindly strive to work.” [
Cited by Lenning, ut sup]
And thus the German Masons call this striving for an
almost millennial result labor in the temple.
The English Masons,
although they have not treated the symbolism of the Order with the same abstruse
investigation that has distinguished those of Germany and France, still have not
been insensible to this idea that the building of the Solomonic temple is
intended to indicate a cultivation of the human character. Thus Hutchinson, one
of the earliest of the symbolic writers of England, shows a very competent
conception—for the age in which he lived—of the mystical meaning of the
temple; and later writers have improved upon his crude views. It must,
however, be acknowledged that neither Hutchinson nor Oliver, nor any other of
the distinguished Masonic writers of England, has dwelt on this peculiar
symbolism of a moral temple with that earnest appreciation of the idea that is
to be found in the works of the French and German Masons. But although the
allusions are rather casual and incidental, yet the symbolic theory is evidently
[Thus Dr. Oliver, while
treating of the relation of the temple to the lodge, thus briefly alludes to
this important symbol: "As our ancient brethren erected a material temple,
without the use of axe, hammer, or metal tool, so is our moral temple
constructed."—Historical Landmarks, lect. xxxi.]
Our own country has
produced many students of Masonic symbolism, who have thoroughly grasped this
noble thought, and treated it with eloquence and erudition. Fifty years ago
Salem Towne wrote thus: "Speculative Masonry, according to present
acceptation, has an ultimate reference to that spiritual building erected by
virtue in the heart, and summarily implies the arrangement and perfection of
those holy and sublime principles by which the soul is fitted for a meet temple
of God in a world of immortality.’ [System
of Speculative Masonry, ch. vi. p. 63]
Charles Scott has devoted one of the lectures in his "Analogy
of Ancient Craft Masonry to Natural and Revealed Religion" to a thorough
consideration of this subject. The language is too long for quotation, but
the symbol has been well interpreted by him. [On
the Speculative Temple—an essay read in 1861 before the Grand Lodge of
Still more recently, Bro. John A. Loclor has
treated the topic in an essay, which I regret has not had a larger circulation.
A single and brief passage may show the spirit of the production, and how
completely it sustains the idea of this symbolism. “ We may disguise it as
we will," says Bro. Lodor, "we may evade a scrutiny of it; but our
character, as it is, with its faults and blemishes, its weaknesses and
infirmities, its vices and its stains, together with its redeeming traits, its
better parts, is our speculative temple." And he goes on to extend the
symbolic idea: "Like the exemplar temple on Mount Moriah, it should be
preserved as a hallowed shrine, and guarded with the same vigilant care. It
should be our pearl of price set round with walls and enclosures, even as was
the Jewish temple, and the impure, the vicious, the guilty, and the profane be
banished from even its outer courts. A faithful sentinel should be placed at
every gate, a watchman on every wall, and the first approach of a cowan and
eavesdropper be promptly met and resisted."
Teachings like this are now so common that every
American Mason who has studied the symbolism of his Order believes, with
Carlyle, that "there is but one temple in the world, and that is the body
This inquiry into the meaning and object of labor, as
a Masonic symbol, brings us to these conclusions:-
1. That our ancient brethren worked as long as the
operative art predominated in the institution at material temples, the most
prominent of these being the temple of King Solomon.
2. That when the speculative science took the place
of the operative art, the modern Masons, working no longer at material temples,
but holding still to the sacred thought, the reverential idea, of a holy temple,
a Lord's house to be built, began to labor at living temples, and to make man,
the true house of the Lord, the tabernacle for the indwelling of the Holy
Therefore to every Freemason who rightly comprehends his art, this construction
of a living temple is his labor.
"Labor," says Gadicke, the German Masonic
lexicographer, "is an important word in Masonry; indeed, we might say the
most important. For this, and this alone, does a man become a Freemason. Every
other object is secondary or incidental. Labor is the accustomed design of every
lodge meeting. But does such meeting always furnish evidence of industry? The
labor of an operative mason will be visible, and he will receive his reward for
it, even though the building he has constructed may, in the next hour, be
overthrown by a tempest. He knows that he has done his labor. And so must the
Freemason labor. His labor must be visible to himself and to his brethren, or,
at least, it must conduce to his own internal satisfaction. As we build
neither a visible Solomonic temple nor an Egyptian pyramid, our industry must
become visible in works that are imperishable, so that when we vanish from the
eyes of mortals, it may be said of us that our labor was well done."
And remembering what the apostle has said, that we
are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in us, we know that
our labor is so to build that temple that it shall become worthy of its divine
And thus, too, at last, we can understand the saying
of the old monks that "labor is worship;" and as Masons we labor in
our lodge, labor to make ourselves a perfect building, without blemish, working
hopefully for the consummation, when the house of our earthly tabernacle shall
be finished, when the LOST WORD of divine truth shall at last be discovered, and
when we shall be found by our own efforts at perfection to have done God
service. For so truly is the meaning of those noble words—LABOR IS WORSHIP.
The Stone of Foundation.
The Stone of Foundation constitutes one of the most
important and abstruse of all the symbols of Freemasonry. It is referred to in
numerous legends and traditions, not only of the Freemasons, but also of the
Jewish Rabbis, the Talmudic writers and even the Mussulman doctors. Many of
these, it must be confessed, are apparently puerile and absurd, but some of them
and especially the Masonic ones, are deeply interesting in their
The Stone of Foundation is, properly speaking, a
symbol of the higher degrees. It makes its first appearance in the Royal Arch
and forms, indeed, the most important symbol of that degree. But it is so
intimately connected, in its legendary history, with the construction of the
Solomonic temple, that it must be considered as a part of Ancient Craft Masonry,
although he who confines the range of his investigations to the first three
degrees, will have no means, within that narrow limit, of properly appreciating
the symbolism of the Stone of Foundation.
As preliminary to the inquiry which is about to be
instituted, it is necessary to distinguish the Stone of Foundation, both in its
symbolism and in its legendary history, from other stones, which play an
important part in the Masonic ritual, but which are entirely distinct from it.
Such are the corner-stone, which was always placed in the north-east
corner of the building about to be erected, and to which such a beautiful
reference is made in the ceremonies of the first degree; or the keystone,
which constitutes an interesting part of the Mark Master's degree; or, lastly,
the cape-stone, upon which all the ritual of the Most Excellent Master's
degree is founded. These are all, in their proper places, highly interesting and
instructive symbols, but have no connection whatever with the Stone of
Foundation or its symbolism. Nor, although the Stone of Foundation is said, for
peculiar reasons, to have been of a cubical form, must it be confounded with
that stone called by the continental Masons the cubical stone, the pierre
cubique of the French and the cubik stein of the German
Masons, but which in the English system is known as the perfect ashlar.
The Stone of Foundation has a legendary history and a
symbolic signification, which are peculiar to itself, and which differ from the
history and meaning which belong to these other stones.
Let us first define this Masonic Stone of Foundation,
then collate the legends which refer to it, and afterwards investigate its
significance as a symbol. To the Mason who takes a pleasure in the study of the
mysteries of his institution, the investigation cannot fail to be interesting , if it is conducted with any ability.
But in the very beginning, as a necessary preliminary
to any investigation of this kind, it must be distinctly understood that all
that is said of this Stone of Foundation in Masonry is to be strictly taken in a
mythical or allegorical sense. Dr. Oliver, the most learned of our Masonic
writers, while undoubtedly himself knowing that it was simply a symbol, has
written loosely of it, as though it were a substantial reality and hence, if the
passages in his "Historical Landmarks," and in his other works, which
refer to this celebrated stone are accepted by his readers in a literal sense,
they will present absurdities and puerilities, which would not occur if the Stone
of Foundation was received, as it really is, as a philosophical myth, conveying
a most profound and beautiful symbolism. Read in this spirit, as all the
legends of Masonry should be read, the mythical story of the Stone of Foundation
becomes one of the most important and interesting of all the Masonic symbols.
The Stone of
is supposed, by the theory, which establishes it, to have been a stone placed
at one time within the foundations of the temple of Solomon and afterwards,
during the building of the second temple, transported to the Holy of Holies. It
was in form a perfect cube, and had inscribed upon its upper face, within a
delta or triangle, the sacred tetragrammaton, or ineffable name of God. Oliver,
speaking with the solemnity of an historian, says that Solomon thought that he
had rendered the house of God worthy, so far as human adornment could effect,
for the dwelling of God, "when he had placed the celebrated Stone of
Foundation, on which the sacred name was mystically engraven, with solemn
ceremonies, in that sacred depository on Mount Moriah, along with the
foundations of Dan and Asher, the centre of the Most Holy Place, where the ark
was overshadowed by the shekinah of God.”[ Hist. Landmarks, i. 459, note 52]
Hebrew Talmudists, who thought as much of this stone, and had as many
legends concerning it as the Masonic Talmudists, called it eben shatijah
or "Stone of Foundation," because, as they said, it had been laid by
Jehovah as the foundation of the world and hence the apocryphal book of Enoch
speaks of the "stone which supports the corners of the earth."[
אבך שתייה See the Gemara and
Buxtorf Lex. Talm., p. 2541.]
This idea of a foundation stone of the world was most
probably derived from that magnificent passage of the book of Job, in which
the Almighty demands of the afflicted patriarch,
"Where wast thou, when I laid the foundation of
Declare, since thou hast such knowledge!
Who fixed its dimensions, since thou knowest?
Or who stretched out the line upon it?
Upon what were its foundations fixed?
And who laid its corner-stone,
When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?” [.
Job xxxviii. 4-7.]
Noyes, whose beautiful translation I have adopted as not
materially differing from the common version, but which is far more poetical and
more in the strain of the original, thus explains the allusions to the
foundation-stone, "It was the custom to celebrate the laying of the
corner-stone of an important building with music, songs, shouting, &c. Hence
the morning stars are represented as celebrating the laying of the corner-stone
of the earth.”
[ A New
Translation of the Book of Job, notes, p. 196.]
Upon this meagre statement have been accumulated more
traditions than appertain to any other Masonic symbol. The Rabbis, as has
already been intimated, divide the glory of these apocryphal histories with the
Masons. Indeed, there is good reason for a suspicion that nearly all the
Masonic legends owe their first existence to the imaginative genius of the
writers of the Jewish Talmud. But there is this difference between the Hebrew
and the Masonic traditions, that the Talmudic scholar recited them as truthful
histories, and swallowed, in one gulp of faith, all their impossibilities and
anachronisms, while the Masonic student has received them as allegories,
whose value is not in the facts, but in the sentiments which they convey.
With this understanding of their meaning, let us
proceed to a collation of these legends.
In that blasphemous work, the "Toldoth
Jeshu" or Life of Jesus, written, it is supposed, in the
thirteenth or fourteenth century, we find the following account of
this wonderful stone,
"At that time [the time of Jesus] there was in
the House of the Sanctuary [that is, the temple] a Stone of Foundation, which is
the very stone that our father Jacob anointed with oil, as it is described in
the twenty-eighth chapter of the book of Genesis. On that stone the letters of
the tetragrammaton were inscribed and whosoever of the Israelites should learn
that name would be able to master the world. To prevent, therefore, any one from
learning these letters, two iron dogs were placed upon two columns in front of
the Sanctuary. If any person, having acquired the knowledge of these letters,
desired to depart from the Sanctuary, the barking of the dogs, by magical power,
inspired so much fear, that he suddenly forgot what he had acquired."
This passage is cited by the learned Buxtorf, in his
voc. שתייה, where some other curious extracts from
the Talmud and Talmudic writers on the subject of the Stone of Foundation are
But in the copy of the "Toldoth Jeshu"
which I have the good fortune to possess (for it is among the rarest of books),
I find another passage which gives some additional particulars, in the following
time there was in the temple the ineffable name of God, inscribed upon the Stone
of Foundation. For when King David was digging the foundation for the temple, he
found in the depths of the excavation a certain stone, on which the name of God
was inscribed. This stone he removed, and deposited it in the Holy of
Holies.”[ Sepher Toldoth Jeshu, p. 6.
The abominably scurrilous character of this work aroused the indignation of the
Christians, who, in the fifteenth century, were not distinguished for a spirit
of tolerance, and the Jews, becoming alarmed, made every effort to suppress it.
But, in 1681, it was republished by Wagenselius in his "Tela Ignea Satanae,"
with a Latin translation.]
It is not pertinent to the present inquiry, but it
may be stated as a mere matter of curious information, that this scandalous
book, which is throughout a blasphemous defamation of our Saviour, proceeds to
say, that he cunningly obtained a knowledge of the tetragrammaton from the Stone
of Foundation and by its mystical influence was enabled to perform his miracles.
The Masonic legends of the Stone of Foundation,
based on these and other rabbinical reveries, are of the most extraordinary
character, if they are to be viewed as histories, but readily reconcilable with
sound sense, if looked at only in the light of allegories. They present an
uninterrupted succession of events, in which the Stone of Foundation takes a
prominent part, from Adam to Solomon, and from Solomon to Zerubbabel.
Thus the first of these legends, in order of time,
relates that the Stone of Foundation was possessed by Adam while in the garden
of Eden, that he used it as an altar and so reverenced it, that, on his
expulsion from Paradise, he carried it with him into the world in which he and
his descendants were afterwards to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow.
Another legend informs us that from Adam the Stone of
Foundation descended to Seth. From Seth it passed by regular succession to Noah,
who took it with him into the ark, and after the subsidence of the deluge, made
on it his first thank-offering. Noah left it on Mount Ararat, where it was
subsequently found by Abraham, who removed it, and consequently used it as an
altar of sacrifice. His grandson Jacob took it with him when he fled to his
uncle Laban in Mesopotamia, and used it as a pillow when, in the vicinity of
Luz, he had his celebrated vision.
Here there is a
sudden interruption in the legendary history of the stone, and we have no means
of conjecturing how it passed from the possession of Jacob into that of Solomon.
Moses, it is true, is said to have taken it with him out of Egypt at the time of
the exodus, and thus it may have finally reached Jerusalem. Dr. Adam Clarke [Comment,
on Gen. xxviii. 18.]
he very properly calls "a foolish tradition," that the stone on which
Jacob rested his head was afterwards brought to Jerusalem, thence carried after
a long lapse of time to Spain, from Spain to Ireland, and from Ireland to
Scotland, where it was used as a seat on which the kings of Scotland sat to be
crowned. Edward I., we know, brought a stone, to which this legend is attached,
from Scotland to Westminster Abbey, where, under the name of Jacob's Pillow, it
still remains, and is always placed under the chair upon which the British
sovereign sits to be crowned, because there is an old distich which declares
that wherever this stone is found the Scottish kings shall reign. ["Ni
fallit fatum, Scoti quocunque locatum Invenient lapidem, regnare tenentur ibidem."]
Scottish tradition would take the Stone of Foundation away from all its Masonic
connections, and therefore it is rejected as a Masonic legend.
The legends just related are in many respects
contradictory and unsatisfactory, and another series, equally as old, are now
very generally adopted by Masonic scholars, as much better suited to the
symbolism by which all these legends are explained.
This series of legends commences with the patriarch
Enoch, who is supposed to have been the first consecrator of the Stone of
Foundation. The legend of Enoch is so interesting and important in Masonic
science as to excuse something more than a brief reference to the incidents,
which it details.
The legend in full is as follows. Enoch,
under the inspiration of the Most High, and in obedience to the instructions
which he had received in a vision, built a temple under ground on Mount Moriah,
and dedicated it to God. His son, Methuselah, constructed the building, although
he was not acquainted with his father's motives for the erection. This temple
consisted of nine vaults, situated perpendicularly beneath each other, and
communicating by apertures left in each vault. Enoch then caused a triangular
plate of gold to be made, each side of which was a cubit long; he enriched it
with the most precious stones, and encrusted the plate upon a stone of agate of
the same form. On the plate he engraved the true name of God, or the
tetragrammaton, and placing it on a cubical stone, known thereafter as the Stone
of Foundation, he deposited the whole within the lowest arch.
When this subterranean building was completed, he
made a door of stone, and attaching to it a ring of iron, by which it might be
occasionally raised, he placed it over the opening of the uppermost arch, and so
covered it that the aperture could not be discovered. Enoch himself was not
permitted to enter it but once a year, and after the days of Enoch, Methuselah,
and Lamech, and the destruction of the world by the deluge, all knowledge of the
vault or subterranean temple, and of the Stone of Foundation, with the sacred
and ineffable name inscribed upon it, was lost for ages to the world.
At the building of the first temple of Jerusalem, the
Stone of Foundation again makes its appearance.
Reference has already been made to the Jewish tradition that David, when digging
the foundations of the temple, found in the excavation which he was making a
certain stone, on which the ineffable name of God was inscribed, and which stone
he is said to have removed and deposited in the Holy of Holies. That King David
laid the foundations of the temple upon which the superstructure was
subsequently erected by Solomon, is a favorite theory of the legend-mongers of
The Masonic tradition is substantiallv the same as
the Jewish, but it substitutes Solomon for David, thereby giving a greater air
of probability to the narrative and it supposes that the stone thus discovered
by Solomon was the identical one that had been deposited in his secret vault by
Enoch. This Stone of Foundation, the tradition states, was subsequently removed
by King Solomon, and, for wise purposes, deposited in a secret and safer place.
In this, the Masonic tradition again agrees with the
Jewish, for we find in the third chapter of the "Treatise on the
Temple" written by the celebrated Maimonides, the following narrative,
"There was a stone in the Holy of Holies, on its
west side, on which was placed the ark of the covenant, and before it the pot of
manna and Aaron's rod. But when Solomon had built the temple, and foresaw that
it was, at some future time, to be destroyed, he constructed a deep and winding
vault under ground, for the purpose of concealing the ark, wherein Josiah
afterwards, as we learn in the Second Book of Chronicles, xxxv. 3, deposited it,
with the pot of manna, the rod of Aaron, and the oil of anointing."
The Talmudical book "Yoma" gives the
same tradition, and says that "the ark of the covenant was placed in the
centre of the Holy of Holies, upon a stone rising three fingers' breadth above
the floor, to be, as it were, a pedestal for it."
"This stone," says Prideaux, "the
Rabbins call the Stone of Foundation, and give us a great deal of trash about
it." [Old and New Testament
connected, vol. i. p. 148.]
There is much controversy as to the question of the
existence of any ark in the second temple. Some of the Jewish writers assert
that a new one was made; others, that the old one was found where it had been
concealed by Solomon; and others again contend that there was no ark at all in
the temple of Zerubbabel, but that its place was supplied by the Stone of
Foundation on which it had originally rested.
Royal Arch Masons well know how all these traditions
are sought to be reconciled by the Masonic legend, in which the substitute ark
and the Stone of Foundation play so important a part.
In the thirteenth degree of the Ancient and Accepted
Rite, the Stone of Foundation is conspicuous as the resting-place of the sacred
In the Royal Arch and Select Master's degrees of the
Americanized York Rite, the Stone of Foundation constitutes the most important
part of the ritual. In both of these it is the receptacle of the ark, on which
the ineffable name is inscribed.
Lee, in his "Temple of Solomon", has
devoted a chapter to this Stone of Foundation, and thus recapitulates the
Talmudic and Rabbinical traditions on the subject, "Vain and futilous
are the feverish dreams of the ancient Rabbis concerning the Foundation Stone
of the temple. Some assert that God placed this stone in the centre of the
world, for a future basis and settled consistency for the earth to rest upon.
Others held this stone to be the first matter, out of which all the beautiful
visible beings of the world have been hewn forth and produced to light. Others
relate that this was the very same stone laid by Jacob for a pillow under his
head, in that night when he dreamed of an angelic vision at Bethel, and
afterwards anointed and consecrated it to God. Which when Solomon had found (no
doubt by forged revelation, or some tedious search, like another Rabbi Selemoh),
he durst not but lay it sure, as the principal foundation stone of the temple.
Nay, they say further, he caused to be engraved upon it the tetragrammaton, or
the ineffable name of Jehovah.”
Old and New Testament connected, vol. i. p. 148.]
It will be seen that the Masonic traditions on the
subject of the Stone of Foundation do not differ very materially from these
Rabbinical ones, although they give a few additional circumstances. In the
Masonic legend, the Foundation Stone first makes its appearance, as I have
already said, in the days of Enoch, who placed it in the bowels of Mount Moriah.
There it was subsequently discovered by King Solomon, who deposited it in a
crypt of the first temple, where it remained concealed until the foundations of
the second temple were laid, when it was discovered and removed to the Holy of
Holies. But the most important point of the legend of the Stone of Foundation is
its intimate and constant connection with the tetragrammaton, or ineffable name.
It is this name, inscribed upon it, within the sacred and symbolic delta, that
gives to the stone all its Masonic value and significance. It is upon this fact,
that it was so inscribed, that its whole symbolism depends.
Looking at these traditions in anything like the
light of historical narratives, we are compelled to consider them, to use the
plain language of Lee, "but as so many idle and absurd conceits." We
must go behind the legend, viewing it only as an allegory, and study its
The symbolism of the Foundation Stone of Masonry is
therefore the next subject of investigation.
In approaching this, the most abstruse, and one of
the most important, symbols of the Order, we are at once impressed with its
apparent connection with the ancient doctrine of stone worship. Some brief
consideration of this species of religious culture is therefore necessary for a
proper understanding of the real symbolism of the Stone of Foundation.
The worship of stones is a kind of fetichism, which
in the very infancy of religion prevailed, perhaps, more extensively than any
other form of religious culture. Lord Kames explains the fact by supposing
that stones erected as monuments of the dead became the place where posterity
paid their veneration to the memory of the deceased and that at length the
people, losing sight of the emblematical signification, which was not readily
understood, these monumental stones became objects of worship.
Others have sought to find the origin of stone
worship in the stone that was set up and anointed by Jacob at Bethel, and
the tradition of which had extended into the heathen nations and become
corrupted. It is certain that the Phoenicians worshipped sacred stones under
the name of Baetylia, which word is evidently derived from the Hebrew Bethel
and this undoubtedly gives some appearance of plausibility to the theory.
But a third
theory supposes that the worship of stones was derived from the unskilfulness of
the primitive sculptors, who, unable to frame, by their meagre principles of
plastic art, a true image of the God whom they adored, were content to
substitute in its place a rude or scarcely polished stone. Hence the Greeks,
according to Pausanias, originally used unhewn stones to represent their
deities, thirty of which that historian says he saw in the city of Pharas. These
stones were of a cubical form, and as the greater number of them were dedicated
to the god Hermes, or Mercury, they received the generic name of Hermaa.
Subsequently, with the improvement of the plastic art, the head was added. [See Pausanias, lib. iv.]
One of these consecrated stones was placed before the
door of almost every house in Athens. They were also placed in front of the
temples, in the gymnasia or schools, in libraries, and at the corners of
streets, and in the roads. When dedicated to the god Terminus they were used as
landmarks, and placed as such upon the concurrent lines of neighboring
worshipped Bacchus under the form of a rude, square stone.
that Cybele was represented by a small stone of a black color.
"Disputationes adversus Gentes" of Arnobius supplies us with a fund of
information on the symbolism of the classic mythology.]
cites Porphyry as saying that the ancients represented the deity by a black
stone, because his nature is obscure and inscrutable. The reader will here be
reminded of the black stone Hadsjar el Aswad, placed in the south-west
corner of the Kaaba at Mecca, which was worshipped by the ancient Arabians, and
is still treated with religious veneration by the modern Mohammedans. The
Mussulman priests, however, say that it was originally white, and of such
surprising splendor that it could be seen at the distance of four days' journey,
but that it has been blackened by the tears of pilgrims.
The Druids, it is well known, had no other images of
their gods but cubical, or sometimes columnar, stones, of which Toland gives
The Chaldeans had a sacred stone, which they held in
great veneration, under the name of Mnizuris, and to which they
sacrificed for the purpose of evoking the Good Demon.
Stone worship existed among the early American races.
Squier quotes Skinner as asserting that the Peruvians used to set up rough
stones in their fields and plantations, which were worshipped as protectors of
their crops. And Gam a says that in Mexico the presiding god of the spring was
often represented without a human body, and in place thereof a pilaster or
square column, whose pedestal was covered with various sculptures.
Indeed, so universal was this stone worship, that
Higgins, in his "Celtic Druids," says that, "throughout
the world the first object of idolatry seems to have been a plain, unwrought
stone, placed in the ground, as an emblem of the generative or procreative
powers of nature." And the learned Bryant, in his "Analysis of
Ancient Mythology," asserts that "there is in every oracular
temple some legend about a stone."
Without further citations of examples from the
religious usages of other countries, it will, I think, be conceded that
the cubical stone formed an important part of the religious worship of primitive
nations. But Cudworth, Bryant, Faber, and all other distinguished
writers who have treated the subject, have long since established the theory
that the pagan religions were eminently symbolic. Thus, to use the language
of Dudley, the pillar or stone "was adopted as a symbol of strength and
firmness, a symbol, also, of the divine power, and, by a ready inference, a
symbol or idol of the Deity himself.” [Naology,
ch. iii. p. 119]
symbolism is confirmed by Cornutus, who says that the god Hermes was represented
without hands or feet, being a cubical stone, because the cubical figure
betokened his solidity and stability. [Cornut.
de Nat. Deor. c. 16]
Thus, then, the following facts have been
established, but not precisely in this order. First, that there was a
very general prevalence among the earliest nations of antiquity of the worship
of stones as the representatives of Deity. Secondly, that in almost every
ancient temple there was a legend of a sacred or mystical stone. Thirdly, that
this legend is found in the Masonic system and lastly, that the mystical stone
there has received the name of the "Stone of Foundation."
Now, as in all the other systems the stone is
admitted to be symbolic, and the tradition connected with it mystical, we are
compelled to assume the same predicates of the Masonic stone. It, too, is
symbolic, and its legend a myth or an allegory.
Of the fable, myth,
or allegory, Bailly has said that, "subordinate to history and
philosophy, it only deceives that it may the better instruct us. Faithful in
preserving the realities which are confided to it, it covers with its seductive
envelope the lessons of the one and the truths of the other.’ [Essais
sur les Fables, t. i. lett. 2. p. 9]
It is from this stand point that we are to view the
allegory of the Stone of Foundation, as developed in one of the most interesting
and important symbols of Masonry.
The fact that the mystical stone in all the ancient
religions was a symbol of the Deity, leads us necessarily to the conclusion that
the Stone of Foundation was also a symbol of Deity. And this symbolic idea is
strengthened by the tetragrammaton, or sacred name of God, that was inscribed
upon it. This ineffable name sanctifies the stone upon which it is engraved as
the symbol of the Grand Architect. It takes from it its heathen signification as
an idol and consecrates it to the worship of the true God.
The predominant idea of the Deity, in the Masonic
system, connects him with his creative and formative power. God is, to the
Freemason, Al Gabil, as the Arabians called him, that is, The Builder;
or, as expressed in his Masonic title, the Grand Architect of the Universe, by
common consent abbreviated in the formula G.A.O.T.U. Now, it is evident that no
symbol could so appropriately suit him in this character as the Stone of
Foundation, upon which he is allegorically supposed to have erected his world.
Such a symbol closely connects the creative work of God, as a pattern and
exemplar, with the workman's erection of his temporal building on a similar
But this Masonic idea is still further to be
extended. The great object of all Masonic labor is divine truth. The
search for the lost word is the search for truth. But divine truth is
a term synonymous with God. The ineffable name is a symbol of truth, because
God, and God alone, is truth. It is properly a scriptural idea. The Book
of Psalms abounds with this sentiment. Thus it is said that the truth of the
Lord "reacheth unto the clouds," and that "his truth endureth
unto all generations." If, then, God is truth, and the Stone of Foundation
is the Masonic symbol of God, it follows that it must also be the symbol of
When we have arrived at this point in our
speculations, we are ready to show how all the myths and legends of the Stone of
Foundation may be rationally explained as parts of that beautiful "science
of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols," which is the
acknowledged definition of Freemasonry.
In the Masonic system there are two temples. The
first temple, in which the degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry are concerned and
the second temple, with which the higher degrees and especially the Royal Arch,
are related. The first temple is symbolic of the present life. The second
temple is symbolic of the life to come. The first temple, the present life, must
be destroyed and on its foundations the second temple, the life eternal, must be
But the mystical stone was placed by King Solomon in
the foundations of the first temple. That is to say, the first temple of our
present life must be built on the sure foundation of divine truth, "for
other foundation can no man lay."
But although the present life is necessarily built
upon the foundation of truth, yet we never thoroughly attain it in this
sublunary sphere. The Foundation Stone is concealed in the first temple, and the
Master Mason knows it not. He has not the true word. He receives only a
But in the second temple of the future life, we have
passed from the grave, which had been the end of our labors in the first. We
have removed the rubbish, and have found that Stone of Foundation which had been
hitherto concealed from our eyes. We now throw aside the substitute for truth
which had contented us in the former temple, and the brilliant effulgence of the
tetragrammaton and the Stone of Foundation are discovered, and thenceforth we
are the possessors of the true word, of divine truth. And in this way, the
Stone of Foundation, or divine truth, concealed in the first temple, but
discovered and brought to light in the second, will explain that passage of the
apostle, "For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face: now
I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."
And so, the result of this inquiry is, that the
Masonic Stone of Foundation is a symbol of divine truth, upon which all
Speculative Masonry is built and the legends and traditions which refer to it
are intended to describe, in an allegorical way, the progress of truth in the
soul, the search for which is a Mason's labor and the discovery of which is his
XXXI.--The Lost Word.
The last of the
symbols, depending for its existence on its connection with a myth to which I
shall invite attention, is the Lost Word, and the search for it. Very
appropriately may this symbol terminate our investigations, since it includes
within its comprehensive scope all the others, being itself the very essence of
the science of masonic symbolism. The other symbols require for their just
appreciation a knowledge of the origin of the order, because they owe their
birth to its relationship with kindred and anterior institutions. But the
symbolism of the Lost Word has reference exclusively to the design and the
objects of the institution.
First, let us define
the symbol, and then investigate its interpretation.
The mythical history
of Freemasonry informs us that there once existed a WORD of surpassing value,
and claiming a profound veneration; that this Word was known to but few; that it
was at length lost; and that a temporary substitute for it was adopted. But as
the very philosophy of Masonry teaches us that there can be no death without a
resurrection, no decay without a subsequent restoration, on the same
principle, it follows that the loss of the Word must suppose its eventual
Now, this it is,
precisely, that constitutes the myth of the Lost Word and the search for it. No
matter what was the word, no matter how it was lost, nor why a substitute was
provided, nor when nor where it was recovered. These are all points of
subsidiary importance, necessary, it is true, for knowing the legendary history,
but not necessary for understanding the symbolism. The only term of the myth
that is to be regarded in the study of its interpretation, is the abstract idea
of a word lost and afterwards recovered.
This, then, points
us to the goal to which we must direct our steps in the pursuit of the
But the symbolism,
referring in this case, as I have already said, solely to the great design of
Freemasonry, the nature of that design at once suggests itself as a preliminary
subject of inquiry in the investigation.
What, then, is the
design of Freemasonry? A very large majority of its disciples, looking only to
its practical results, as seen in the every day business of life, to the noble
charities which it dispenses, to the tears of widows which it has dried, to the
cries of orphans which it has hushed, to the wants of the destitute which it has
supplied, arrive with too much rapidity at the conclusion that Charity, and
that, too, in its least exalted sense of eleemosynary aid, is the great design
of the institution.
Others, with a still
more contracted view, remembering the pleasant reunions at their lodge banquets,
the unreserved communications which are thus encouraged, and the solemn
obligations of mutual trust and confidence that are continually inculcated,
believe that it was intended solely to promote the social sentiments and cement
the bonds of friendship.
But, although the
modern lectures inform us that Brotherly Love and Relief are two of "the
principal tenets of a Mason's profession," yet, from the same authority, we
learn that Truth is a third and not less important one and Truth, too, not in
its old Anglo-Saxon meaning of fidelity to engagements, but in that more
strictly philosophical one in which it is opposed to intellectual and religious
error or falsehood.[ Bosworth (Aug.
Sax. Dict.) defines treowth to signify "troth, truth, treaty,
league, pledge, covenant."]
But I have shown
that the Primitive Freemasonry of the ancients was instituted for the purpose of
preserving that truth which had been originally communicated to the patriarchs,
in all its integrity, and that the Spurious Masonry, or the Mysteries,
originated in the earnest need of the sages, and philosophers, and priests, to
find again the same truth which had been lost by the surrounding multitudes. I
have shown, also, that this same truth continued to be the object of the Temple
Masonry, which was formed by a union of the Primitive, or Pure, and the Spurious
systems. Lastly, I have endeavored to demonstrate that this truth related to the
nature of God and the human soul.
The search, then,
after this truth, I suppose to constitute the end and design of Speculative
Masonry. From the very commencement of his career, the aspirant is by
significant symbols and expressive instructions directed to the acquisition of
this divine truth and the whole lesson, if not completed in its full extent, is
at least well developed in the myths and legends of the Master's degree. God
and the soul, the unity of the one and the immortality of the other, are
the great truths, the search for which is to constitute the constant occupation
of every Mason, and which, when found, are to become the chief corner-stone, or
the stone of foundation, of the spiritual temple, "the house not made with
hands", which he is engaged in erecting.
Now, this idea of a
search after truth forms so prominent a part of the whole science of
Freemasonry, that I conceive no better or more comprehensive answer could be
given to the question, What is Freemasonry? than to say that it is a
science, which is engaged in the search after divine truth.
But Freemasonry is
eminently a system of symbolism, and all its instructions are conveyed in
symbols. It is, therefore, to be supposed that so prominent and so prevailing an
idea as this, one that constitutes, as I have said, the whole design of the
institution, and which may appropriately be adopted as the very definition of
its science, could not with any consistency be left without its particular
therefore, I conceive to be the symbol of Divine Truth;
and all its modifications, the loss, the substitution and the recovery are
but component parts of the mythical symbol which represents a search after
How, then, is this
symbolism preserved? How is the whole history of this Word to be interpreted,
so as to bear, in all its accidents of time, and place, and circumstance, a
patent reference to the substantive idea that has been symbolized?
The answers to
these questions embrace what is, perhaps, the most intricate as well as most
ingenious and interesting portion of the science of masonic symbolism.
This symbolism may
be interpreted, either in an application to a general or to a special sense.
application will embrace the whole history of Freemasonry, from its inception to
its consummation. The search after the Word is an epitome of the intellectual
and religious progress of the order, from the period when, by the dispersion at
Babel, the multitudes were enshrouded in the profundity of a moral darkness
where truth was apparently forever extinguished. The true name of God was lost;
his true nature was not understood; the divine lessons imparted by our father
Noah were no longer remembered; the ancient traditions were now corrupted; the
ancient symbols were perverted. Truth was buried beneath the rubbish of Sabaism,
and the idolatrous adoration of the sun and stars had taken the place of the
olden worship of the true God. A moral darkness was now spread over the face of
the earth, as a dense, impenetrable cloud, which obstructed the rays of the
spiritual sun, and covered the people as with a gloomy pall of intellectual
But this night was
not to last forever. A brighter dawn was to arise, and amidst all this gloom and
darkness there were still to be found a few sages in whom the religious
sentiment, working in them with powerful throes, sent forth manfully to seek
after truth. There were, even in those days of intellectual and religious
darkness, craftsmen who were willing to search for the Lost Word. And though
they were unable to find it, their approximation to truth was so near that the
result of their search may well be symbolized by the Substitute Word.
It was among the
idolatrous multitudes that the Word had been lost. It was among them that
the Builder had been smitten, and that the works of the spiritual temple had
been suspended; and so, losing at each successive stage of their decline, more
and more of the true knowledge of God and of the pure religion which had
originally been imparted by Noah, they finally arrived at gross materialism and
idolatry, losing all sight of the divine existence. Thus it was that the
truth, the Word was said to have been lost; or, to apply the language of
Hutchinson, modified in its reference to the time, "in this situation, it
might well be said that the guide to heaven was lost, and the master of the
works of righteousness was smitten. The nations had given themselves up to the
grossest idolatry, and the service of the true God was effaced from the memory
of those who had yielded themselves to the dominion of sin."
And now it was among
the philosophers and priests in the ancient Mysteries, or the spurious
Freemasonry, that an anxiety to discover the truth led to the search for the
Lost Word. These were the craftsmen who saw the fatal-blow which had been given,
who knew that the Word was now lost, but were willing to go forth, manfully and
patiently, to seek its restoration. And there were the craftsmen who, failing
to rescue it from the grave of oblivion into which it had fallen, by any efforts
of their own incomplete knowledge, fell back upon the dim traditions which had
been handed down from primeval times, and through their aid found a substitute
for truth in their own philosophical religions.
Schmidtz, speaking of these Mysteries of the pagan world, calls them the remains
of the ancient Pelasgian religion, and says that "the associations of
persons for the purpose of celebrating them must therefore have been formed
at the time when the overwhelming influence of the Hellenic religion began to
gain the upper hand in Greece, and when persons who still entertained a
reverence for the worship of former times united together, with the intention of
preserving and upholding among themselves as much as possible of the religion of
Applying, then, our
interpretation in a general sense, the Word itself being the symbol of Divine
Truth, the narrative of its loss and the search for its recovery becomes a
mythical symbol of the decay and loss of the true religion among the ancient
nations, at and after the dispersion on the plains of Shinar, and of the
attempts of the wise men, the philosophers, and priests, to find and retain it
in their secret Mysteries and initiations, which have hence been designated as
the Spurious Freemasonry of Antiquity.
But I have said that
there is a special, or individual, as well as a general interpretation. This
compound or double symbolism, if I may so call it, is by no means unusual in
Freemasonry. I have already exhibited an illustration of it in the symbolism of
Solomon's temple, where, in a general sense, the temple is viewed as a symbol of
that spiritual temple formed by the aggregation of the whole order, and in which
each mason is considered as a stone; and, in an individual or special sense, the
same temple is considered as a type of that spiritual temple which each mason is
directed to erect in his heart.
Now, in this
special or individual interpretation, the Word, with its accompanying myth of a
loss, a substitute, and a recovery, becomes a symbol of the personal progress of
a candidate from his first initiation to the completion of his course, when he
receives a full development of the Mysteries.
enters on this search after truth, as an Entered Apprentice, in darkness,
seeking for light, the light of wisdom, the light of truth, the light symbolized
by the Word. For this important task, upon which he starts forth gropingly,
falteringly, doubtingly, in want and in weakness, he is prepared by a
purification of the heart, and is invested with a first substitute for the true
Word, which, like the pillar that went before the Israelites in the wilderness,
is to guide him onwards in his weary journey. He is directed to take, as a staff
and scrip for his journey, all those virtues which expand the heart and dignify
the soul. Secrecy, obedience, humility, trust in God, purity of conscience,
economy of time, are all inculcated by impressive types and symbols, which
connect the first degree with the period of youth.
And then, next in
the degree of Fellow Craft, he fairly enters upon his journey. Youth has
now passed, and manhood has come on. New duties and increased obligations press
upon the individual. The thinking and working stage of life is here symbolized.
Science is to be cultivated; wisdom is to be acquired; the lost Word—divine
truth—is still to be sought for. But even yet it is not to be found.
And now the Master
Mason comes, with all the symbolism around him of old age, trials, sufferings,
death. And here, too, the aspirant, pressing onward, always onward, still
cries aloud for "light, more light." The search is almost over,
but the lesson, humiliating to human nature, is to be taught, that in this life,
gloomy and dark, earthly and carnal, pure truth has no abiding place; and
contented with a substitute, and to that second temple of eternal life,
for that true Word, that divine Truth, which will teach us all that we shall
ever learn of God and his emanation, the human soul.
So, the Master
Mason, receiving this substitute for the lost Word, waits with patience for the
time when it shall be found, and perfect wisdom shall be attained.
But, work as we
will, this symbolic Word, this knowledge of divine Truth is never thoroughly
attained in this life, or in its symbol, the Master Mason's lodge. The
corruptions of mortality, which encumber and cloud the human intellect, hide it,
as with a thick veil, from mortal eyes. It is only, as I have just said, beyond
the tomb, and when released from the earthly burden of life, that man is capable
of fully receiving and appreciating the revelation. Hence, then, when we speak
of the recovery of the Word, in that higher degree which is a supplement to
Ancient Craft Masonry, we intimate that that sublime portion of the masonic
system is a symbolic representation of the state after death. For it is only
after the decay and fall of this temple of life, which, as masons, we have been
building, that from its ruins, deep beneath its foundations, and in the profound
abyss of the grave, we find that divine truth, in the search for which life was
spent, if not in vain, at least without success, and the mystic key to which
death only could supply.
And now we know by
this symbolism what is meant by masonic labor, which, too, is itself but
another form of the same symbol. The search for the Word, to find divine
Truth, this, and this only, is a mason's work, and the WORD is his reward.
Labor, said the old
monks, is worship, laborare est orare and thus in our lodges do we
worship, working for the Word, working for the Truth, ever looking forward,
casting no glance behind, but cheerily hoping for the consummation and the
reward of our labor in the knowledge which is promised to him who plays no
Goethe, himself a
mason and a poet, knew and felt all this symbolism of a mason's life and work,
when he wrote that beautiful poem, which Carlyle has thus thrown into his own
rough but impulsive language.
mason's ways are
A type of existence,—
And to his persistence
Is as the days are
Of men in this world.
future hides in it
Gladness and sorrow;
We press still thorow,
Nought that abides in it
solemn before us
Veiled the dark portal,
Goal of all mortal;
Stars silent rest o'er us
Graves under us silent.
earnest thou gazest
Come boding of terror,
Comes phantasm and error,
Perplexing the bravest
With doubt and misgiving.
heard are the voices,
Heard are the sages,
The worlds and the ages;
'Choose well; your choice is
Brief and yet endless.
eyes do regard you,
In eternity's stillness;
Here is all fullness,
Ye, brave to reward you;
Work and despair not.'"
And now, in
concluding this work, so inadequate to the importance of the subjects that have
been discussed, one deduction, at least, may be drawn from all that has been
In tracing the
progress of Freemasonry, and in detailing its system of symbolism, it has been
found to be so intimately connected with the history of philosophy, of religion
and of art, in all ages of the world, that the conviction at once forces
itself upon the mind, that no mason can expect thoroughly to comprehend its
nature, or to appreciate its character as a science, unless he shall devote
himself, with some labor and assiduity, to this study of its system. That
skill which consists in repeating, with fluency and precision, the ordinary
lectures, in complying with all the ceremonial requisitions of the ritual, or
the giving, with sufficient accuracy, the appointed modes of recognition,
pertains only to the very rudiments of the masonic science.
But there is a far
nobler series of doctrines with which Freemasonry is connected, and which it has
been my object, in this work, to present in some imperfect way. It is these,
which constitute the science and the philosophy of Freemasonry and it is these
alone which will return the student who devotes himself to the task, a sevenfold
reward for his labor.
viewed no longer, as too long it has been, as a merely social institution, has
now assumed its original and undoubted position as a speculative science. While
the mere ritual is still carefully preserved, as the casket should be which
contains so bright a jewel; while its charities are still dispensed as the
necessary though incidental result of all its moral teachings; while its social
tendencies are still cultivated as the tenacious cement which is to unite so
fair a fabric in symmetry and strength, the masonic mind is everywhere beginning
to look and ask for something, which, like the manna in the desert, shall feed
us, in our pilgrimage, with intellectual food.
The universal cry, throughout the masonic world, is for light; our lodges
are henceforth to be schools; our labor is to be study; our wages are to be
learning; the types and symbols, the myths and allegories, of the institution
are beginning to be investigated with reference to their ultimate meaning; our
history is now traced by zealous inquiries as to its connection with antiquity;
and Freemasons now thoroughly understand that often quoted definition, that
"Masonry is a science of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by
Thus to learn
Masonry is to know our work and to do it well. What true mason would shrink from