The Symbolism of Freemasonry
Albert G. Mackey
Part 3 out of 6
Oil is a symbol of prosperity, and happiness, and joy. The custom of
anointing every thing or person destined for a sacred purpose is of
venerable antiquity. The statues of the heathen deities, as well as
the altars on which the sacrifices were offered to them, and the priests
who presided over the sacred rites, were always anointed with perfumed
ointment, as a consecration of them to the objects of religious worship.
When Jacob set up the stone on which he had slept in his journey to
Padan-aram, and where he was blessed with the vision of ascending and
descending angels, he anointed it with oil, and thus consecrated it as an
altar to God. Such an inunction was, in ancient times, as it still
continues to be in many modern countries and contemporary religions, a
symbol of the setting apart of the thing or person so anointed and
consecrated to a holy purpose.
Hence, then, we are reminded by this last impressive ceremony, that the
cultivation of virtue, the practice of duty, the resistance of temptation,
the submission to suffering, the devotion to truth, the maintenance of
integrity, and all those other graces by which we strive to fit our
bodies, as living stones, for the spiritual building of eternal life,
must, after all, to make the object effectual and the labor successful, be
consecrated by a holy obedience to God's will and a firm reliance on God's
providence, which alone constitute the chief corner-stone and sure
foundation, on which any man can build with the reasonable hope of a
prosperous issue to his work.
It may be noticed, in concluding this topic, that the corner-stone seems
to be peculiarly a Jewish symbol. I can find no reference to it in any of
the ancient pagan rites, and the EBEN PINAH, the _corner-stone_, which is
so frequently mentioned in Scripture as the emblem of an important
personage, and most usually, in the Old Testament, of the expected
Messiah, appears, in its use in Masonry, to have had, unlike almost every
other symbol of the order, an exclusively temple origin.
The Ineffable Name.
Another important symbol is the Ineffable Name, with which the series of
ritualistic symbols will be concluded.
The Tetragrammaton, or Ineffable Word,--the Incommunicable Name,--is
a symbol--for rightly-considered it is nothing more than a symbol--that
has more than any other (except, perhaps, the symbols connected with
sun-worship), pervaded the rites of antiquity. I know, indeed, of no
system of ancient initiation in which it has not some prominent form and
But as it was, perhaps, the earliest symbol which was corrupted by the
spurious Freemasonry of the pagans, in their secession from the primitive
system of the patriarchs and ancient priesthood, it will be most expedient
for the thorough discussion of the subject which is proposed in the
present paper, that we should begin the investigation with an inquiry into
the nature of the symbol among the Israelites.
That name of God, which we, at a venture, pronounce Jehovah,--although
whether this is, or is not, the true pronunciation can now never be
authoritatively settled,--was ever held by the Jews in the most profound
veneration. They derived its origin from the immediate inspiration of the
Almighty, who communicated it to Moses as his especial appellation, to be
used only by his chosen people; and this communication was made at the
Burning Bush, when he said to him, "Thus shalt thou say unto the children
of Israel: Jehovah, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God
of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this [Jehovah] is
my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations."  And
at a subsequent period he still more emphatically declared this to be his
peculiar name: "I am _Jehovah_; and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac,
and unto Jacob, by the name of _El Shaddai_; but by my name _Jehovah_ was
I not known unto them." 
It will be perceived that I have not here followed precisely the somewhat
unsatisfactory version of King James's Bible, which, by translating or
anglicizing one name, and not the other, leaves the whole passage less
intelligible and impressive than it should be. I have retained the
original Hebrew for both names. El Shaddai, "the Almighty One," was the
name by which he had been heretofore known to the preceding patriarchs; in
its meaning it was analogous to Elohim, who is described in the first
chapter of Genesis as creating the world. But his name of Jehovah was now
for the first time to be communicated to his people.
Ushered to their notice with all the solemnity and religious consecration
of these scenes and events, this name of God became invested among the
Israelites with the profoundest veneration and awe. To add to this
mysticism, the Cabalists, by the change of a single letter, read the
passage, "This is my name forever," or, as it is in the original, _Zeh
shemi l'olam_, םלעל ימש הז as if written _Zeh shemi l'alam_,
םלאל ימש הז that is to say, "This is my name to be concealed."
This interpretation, although founded on a blunder, and in all probability
an intentional one, soon became a precept, and has been strictly obeyed to
this day. The word _Jehovah_ is never pronounced by a pious Jew,
who, whenever he meets with it in Scripture, substitutes for it the word
_Adonai_ or _Lord_--a practice which has been followed by the translators
of the common English version of the Bible with almost Jewish
scrupulosity, the word "Jehovah" in the original being invariably
translated by the word "Lord."  The pronunciation of the word, being
thus abandoned, became ultimately lost, as, by the peculiar construction
of the Hebrew language, which is entirely without vowels, the letters,
being all consonants, can give no possible indication, to one who has not
heard it before, of the true pronunciation of any given word.
To make this subject plainer to the reader who is unacquainted with the
Hebrew, I will venture to furnish an explanation which will, perhaps, be
The Hebrew alphabet consists entirely of consonants, the vowel sounds
having always been inserted orally, and never marked in writing until the
"vowel points," as they are called, were invented by the Masorites, some
six centuries after the Christian era. As the vowel sounds were originally
supplied by the reader, while reading, from a knowledge which he had
previously received, by means of oral instruction, of the proper
pronunciation of the word, he was necessarily unable to pronounce any word
which had never before been uttered in his presence. As we know that _Dr._
is to be pronounced _Doctor_, and _Mr. Mister_, because we have always
heard those peculiar combinations of letters thus enunciated, and not
because the letters themselves give any such sound; so the Jew knew from
instruction and constant practice, and not from the power of the letters,
how the consonants in the different words in daily use were to be
vocalized. But as the four letters which compose the word _Jehovah_, as we
now call it, were never pronounced in his presence, but were made to
represent another word, _Adonai_, which was substituted for it, and as the
combination of these four consonants would give no more indication for any
sort of enunciation than the combinations _Dr._ or _Mr._ give in our
language, the Jew, being ignorant of what vocal sounds were to be
supplied, was unable to pronounce the word, so that its true pronunciation
was in time lost to the masses of the people.
There was one person, however, who, it is said, was in possession of the
proper sound of the letters and the true pronunciation of the word. This
was the high priest, who, receiving it from his predecessor, preserved the
recollection of the sound by pronouncing it three times, once a year, on
the day of the atonement, when he entered the holy of holies of the
tabernacle or the temple.
If the traditions of Masonry on this subject are correct, the kings, after
the establishment of the monarchy, must have participated in this
privilege; for Solomon is said to have been in possession of the word, and
to have communicated it to his two colleagues at the building of the
This is the word which, from the number of its letters, was called the
"tetragrammaton," or four-lettered name, and, from its sacred
inviolability, the "ineffable" or unutterable name.
The Cabalists and Talmudists have enveloped it in a host of mystical
superstitions, most of which are as absurd as they are incredible, but all
of them tending to show the great veneration that has always been paid to
it. Thus they say that it is possessed of unlimited powers, and that
he who pronounces it shakes heaven and earth, and inspires the very angels
with terror and astonishment.
The Rabbins called it "shem hamphorash," that is to say, "the name that is
declaratory," and they say that David found it engraved on a stone while
digging into the earth.
From the sacredness with which the name was venerated, it was seldom, if
ever, written in full, and, consequently, a great many symbols, or
hieroglyphics, were invented to express it. One of these was the letter
י or _Yod_, equivalent nearly to the English I, or J, or Y,
which was the initial of the word, and it was often inscribed within an
equilateral triangle, thus:
/ י \
the triangle itself being a symbol of Deity.
This symbol of the name of God is peculiarly worthy of our attention,
since not only is the triangle to be found in many of the ancient
religions occupying the same position, but the whole symbol itself is
undoubtedly the origin of that hieroglyphic exhibited in the second degree
of Masonry, where, the explanation of the symbolism being the same, the
form of it, as far as it respects the letter, has only been anglicized by
modern innovators. In my own opinion, the letter _G_, which is used in the
Fellow Craft's degree, should never have been permitted to intrude into
Masonry; it presents an instance of absurd anachronism, which would never
have occurred if the original Hebrew symbol had been retained. But being
there now, without the possibility of removal, we have only to remember
that it is in fact but the symbol of a symbol.
Widely spread, as I have already said, was this reverence for the name of
God; and, consequently, its symbolism, in some peculiar form, is to be
found in all the ancient rites.
Thus the Ineffable Name itself, of which we have been discoursing, is said
to have been preserved in its true pronunciation by the Essenes, who, in
their secret rites, communicated it to each other only in a whisper, and
in such form, that while its component parts were known, they were so
separated as to make the whole word a mystery.
Among the Egyptians, whose connection with the Hebrews was more immediate
than that of any other people, and where, consequently, there was a
greater similarity of rites, the same sacred name is said to have been
used as a password, for the purpose of gaining admission to their
In the Brahminic Mysteries of Hindostan the ceremony of initiation was
terminated by intrusting the aspirant with the sacred, triliteral name,
which was AUM, the three letters of which were symbolic of the creative,
preservative, and destructive principles of the Supreme Deity, personified
in the three manifestations of Bramah, Siva, and Vishnu. This word was
forbidden to be pronounced aloud. It was to be the subject of silent
meditation to the pious Hindoo.
In the rites of Persia an ineffable name was also communicated to the
candidate after his initiation. Mithras, the principal divinity in
these rites, who took the place of the Hebrew Jehovah, and represented the
sun, had this peculiarity in his name--that the numeral value of the
letters of which it was composed amounted to precisely 365, the number of
days which constitute a revolution of the earth around the sun, or, as
they then supposed, of the sun around the earth.
In the Mysteries introduced by Pythagoras into Greece we again find the
ineffable name of the Hebrews, obtained doubtless by the Samian Sage
during his visit to Babylon. The symbol adopted by him to express it
was, however, somewhat different, being ten points distributed in the
form of a triangle, each side containing four points, as in the annexed
. . .
. . . .
The apex of the triangle was consequently a single point then followed
below two others, then three; and lastly, the base consisted of four.
These points were, by the number in each rank, intended, according to the
Pythagorean system, to denote respectively the _monad_, or active
principle of nature; the _duad_, or passive principle; the _triad_, or
world emanating from their union; and the _quaterniad_, or intellectual
science; the whole number of points amounting to ten, the symbol of
perfection and consummation. This figure was called by Pythagoras the
_tetractys_--a word equivalent in signification to the _tetragrammaton_;
and it was deemed so sacred that on it the oath of secrecy and fidelity
was administered to the aspirants in the Pythagorean rites.
Among the Scandinavians, as among the Jewish Cabalists, the Supreme God
who was made known in their mysteries had twelve names, of which the
principal and most sacred one was _Alfader_, the Universal Father.
Among the Druids, the sacred name of God was _Hu_--a name which,
although it is supposed, by Bryant, to have been intended by them for
Noah, will be recognized as one of the modifications of the Hebrew
tetragrammaton. It is, in fact, the masculine pronoun in Hebrew, and may
be considered as the symbolization of the male or generative principle in
nature--a sort of modification of the system of Phallic worship.
This sacred name among the Druids reminds me of what is the latest, and
undoubtedly the most philosophical, speculation on the true meaning, as
well as pronunciation, of the ineffable tetragrammaton. It is from the
ingenious mind of the celebrated Lanci; and I have already, in another
work, given it to the public as I received it from his pupil, and my
friend, Mr. Gliddon, the distinguished archaeologist. But the results are
too curious to be omitted whenever the tetragrammaton is discussed.
Elsewhere I have very fully alluded to the prevailing sentiment among the
ancients, that the Supreme Deity was bisexual, or hermaphrodite, including
in the essence of his being the male and female principles, the generative
and prolific powers of nature. This was the universal doctrine in all the
ancient religions, and was very naturally developed in the symbol of the
_phallus_ and _cteis_ among the Greeks, and in the corresponding one of
the _lingam_ and _yoni_ among the Orientalists; from which symbols the
masonic _point within a circle_ is a legitimate derivation. They all
taught that God, the Creator, was both male and female.
Now, this theory is undoubtedly unobjectionable on the score of orthodoxy,
if we view it in the spiritual sense, in which its first propounders must
necessarily have intended it to be presented to the mind, and not in the
gross, sensual meaning in which it was subsequently received. For, taking
the word _sex_, not in its ordinary and colloquial signification, as
denoting the indication of a particular physical organization, but in that
purely philosophical one which alone can be used in such a connection, and
which simply signifies the mere manifestation of a power, it is not to be
denied that the Supreme Being must possess in himself, and in himself
alone, both a generative and a prolific power. This idea, which was so
extensively prevalent among all the nations of antiquity, has also
been traced in the tetragrammaton, or name of Jehovah, with singular
ingenuity, by Lanci; and, what is almost equally as interesting, he has,
by this discovery, been enabled to demonstrate what was, in all
probability, the true pronunciation of the word.
In giving the details of this philological discovery, I will endeavor to
make it as comprehensible as it can be made to those who are not
critically acquainted with the construction of the Hebrew language; those
who are will at once appreciate its peculiar character, and will excuse
the explanatory details, of course unnecessary to them.
The ineffable name, the tetragrammaton, the shem hamphorash,--for it is
known by all these appellations,--consists of four letters, _yod, heh,
vau_, and _heh_, forming the word הוהי. This word, of course, in
accordance with the genius of the Hebrew language, is read, as we would
say, backward, or from right to left, beginning with _yod_ [י], and ending
with _heh_ [ה].
Of these letters, the first, _yod_ [י], is equivalent to the English _i_
pronounced as _e_ in the word _machine_.
The second and fourth letter, _heh_ [ה], is an aspirate, and has here the
sound of the English _h_.
And the third letter, _vau_ [ו], has the sound of open _o_.
Now, reading these four letters, י, or I, ה, or H, ו, or O, and ה, or H,
as the Hebrew requires, from right to left, we have the word הוהי,
equivalent in English to IH-OH, which is really as near to the
pronunciation as we can well come, notwithstanding it forms neither of the
seven ways in which the word is said to have been pronounced, at different
times, by the patriarchs.
But, thus pronounced, the word gives us no meaning, for there is no such
word in Hebrew as _ihoh_; and, as all the Hebrew names were significative
of something, it is but fair to conclude that this was not the original
pronunciation, and that we must look for another which will give a
meaning to the word. Now, Lanci proceeds to the discovery of this true
pronunciation, as follows:--
In the Cabala, a hidden meaning is often deduced from a word by
transposing or reversing its letters, and it was in this way that the
Cabalists concealed many of their mysteries.
Now, to reverse a word in English is to read its letters from _right to
left_, because our normal mode of reading is from _left to right_. But in
Hebrew the contrary rule takes place, for there the normal mode of reading
is from _right to left_; and therefore, to reverse the reading of a word,
is to read it from _left to right_.
Lanci applied this cabalistic mode to the tetragrammaton, when he found
that IH-OH, being read reversely, makes the word HO-HI.
But in Hebrew, _ho_ is the masculine pronoun, equivalent to the English
_he_; and _hi_ is the feminine pronoun, equivalent to _she_; and therefore
the word HO-HI, literally translated, is equivalent to the English
compound HE-SHE; that is to say, the Ineffable Name of God in Hebrew,
being read cabalistically, includes within itself the male and female
principle, the generative and prolific energy of creation; and here we
have, again, the widely-spread symbolism of the phallus and the cteis, the
lingam and the yoni, or their equivalent, the point within a circle, and
another pregnant proof of the connection between Freemasonry and the
And here, perhaps, we may begin to find some meaning for the hitherto
incomprehensible passage in Genesis (i. 27): "So God created man _in his
own image; in the image of God_ created he him; _male and female_ created
he them." They could not have been "in the image" of IHOH, if they had not
been "male and female."
The Cabalists have exhausted their ingenuity and imagination in
speculations on this sacred name, and some of their fancies are really
sufficiently interesting to repay an investigation. Sufficient, however,
has been here said to account for the important position that it occupies
in the masonic system, and to enable us to appreciate the symbols by which
it has been represented.
The great reverence, or indeed the superstitious veneration, entertained
by the ancients for the name of the Supreme Being, led them to express it
rather in symbols or hieroglyphics than in any word at length.
We know, for instance, from the recent researches of the archaeologists,
that in all the documents of the ancient Egyptians, written in the demotic
or common character of the country, the names of the gods were invariably
denoted by symbols; and I have already alluded to the different modes by
which the Jews expressed the tetragrammaton. A similar practice prevailed
among the other nations of antiquity. Freemasonry has adopted the same
expedient, and the Grand Architect of the Universe, whom it is the usage,
even in ordinary writing, to designate by the initials G.A.O.T.U., is
accordingly presented to us in a variety of symbols, three of which
particularly require attention. These are the letter _G_, the equilateral
triangle, and the All-Seeing Eye.
Of the letter _G_ I have already spoken. A letter of the English alphabet
can scarcely be considered an appropriate symbol of an institution which
dates its organization and refers its primitive history to a period long
anterior to the origin of that language. Such a symbol is deficient in the
two elements of antiquity and universality which should characterize every
masonic symbol. There can, therefore, be no doubt that, in its present
form, it is a corruption of the old Hebrew symbol, the letter _yod_, by
which the sacred name was often expressed. This letter is the initial of
the word _Jehovah_, or _Ihoh_, as I have already stated, and is constantly
to be met with in Hebrew writings as the symbol or abbreviature of
_Jehovah_, which word, it will be remembered, is never written at length.
But because _G_ is, in like manner, the initial of _God_, the equivalent
of _Jehovah_, this letter has been incorrectly, and, I cannot refrain from
again saying, most injudiciously, selected to supply, in modern lodges,
the place of the Hebrew symbol.
Having, then, the same meaning and force as the Hebrew _yod_, the letter
_G_ must be considered, like its prototype, as the symbol of the
life-giving and life-sustaining power of God, as manifested in the meaning
of the word Jehovah, or Ihoh, the generative and prolific energy of the
The _All-Seeing Eye_ is another, and a still more important, symbol of the
same great Being. Both the Hebrews and the Egyptians appear to have
derived its use from that natural inclination of figurative minds to
select an organ as the symbol of the function which it is intended
peculiarly to discharge. Thus the foot was often adopted as the symbol of
swiftness, the arm of strength, and the hand of fidelity. On the same
principle, the open eye was selected as the symbol of watchfulness, and
the eye of God as the symbol of divine watchfulness and care of the
universe. The use of the symbol in this sense is repeatedly to be found in
the Hebrew writers. Thus the Psalmist says (Ps. xxxiv. 15), "The eyes of
the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry,"
which explains a subsequent passage (Ps. cxxi. 4), in which it is said,
"Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep." 
On the same principle, the Egyptians represented Osiris, their chief
deity, by the symbol of an open eye, and placed this hieroglyphic of him
in all their temples. His symbolic name, on the monuments, was represented
by the eye accompanying a throne, to which was sometimes added an
abbreviated figure of the god, and sometimes what has been called a
hatchet, but which, I consider, may as correctly be supposed to be a
representation of a square.
The All-Seeing Eye may, then, be considered as a symbol of God manifested
in his omnipresence--his guardian and preserving character--to which
Solomon alludes in the Book of Proverbs (xv. 3), when he says, "The eyes
of Jehovah are in every place, beholding (or as it might be more
faithfully translated, watching) the evil and the good." It is a symbol of
the Omnipresent Deity.
The _triangle_ is another symbol which is entitled to our consideration.
There is, in fact, no other symbol which is more various in its
application or more generally diffused throughout the whole system of both
the Spurious and the Pure Freemasonry.
The equilateral triangle appears to have been adopted by nearly all the
nations of antiquity as a symbol of the Deity.
Among the Hebrews, it has already been stated that this figure, with a
_yod_ in the centre, was used to represent the tetragrammaton, or
ineffable name of God.
The Egyptians considered the equilateral triangle as the most perfect of
figures, and a representative of the great principle of animated
existence, each of its sides referring to one of the three departments of
creation--the animal, the vegetable, and the mineral.
The symbol of universal nature among the Egyptians was the right-angled
triangle, of which the perpendicular side represented Osiris, or the male
principle; the base, Isis, or the female principle; and the hypothenuse,
their offspring, Horus, or the world emanating from the union of both
All this, of course, is nothing more nor less than the phallus and cteis,
or lingam and yoni, under a different form.
The symbol of the right-angled triangle was afterwards adopted by
Pythagoras when he visited the banks of the Nile; and the discovery which
he is said to have made in relation to the properties of this figure, but
which he really learned from the Egyptian priests, is commemorated in
Masonry by the introduction of the forty-seventh problem of Euclid's First
Book among the symbols of the third degree. Here the same mystical
application is supplied as in the Egyptian figure, namely, that the union
of the male and female, or active and passive principles of nature, has
produced the world. For the geometrical proposition being that the squares
of the perpendicular and base are equal to the square of the hypothenuse,
they may be said to produce it in the same way as Osiris and Isis are
equal to, or produce, the world.
Thus the perpendicular--Osiris, or the active, male principle--being
represented by a line whose measurement is 3; and the base--Isis, or the
passive, female principle--by a line whose measurement is 4; then their
union, or the addition of the squares of these numbers, will produce a
square whose root will be the hypothenuse, or a line whose measurement
must be 5. For the square of 3 is 9, and the square of 4 is 16, and the
square of 5 is 25; but 9 added to 16 is equal to 25; and thus, out of the
addition, or coming together, of the squares of the perpendicular and
base, arises the square of the hypothenuse, just as, out of the coming
together, in the Egyptian system, of the active and passive principles,
arises, or is generated, the world.
In the mediaeval history of the Christian church, the great ignorance of
the people, and their inclination to a sort of materialism, led them to
abandon the symbolic representations of the Deity, and to depict the
Father with the form and lineaments of an aged man, many of which
irreverent paintings, as far back as the twelfth century, are to be found
in the religious books and edifices of Europe. But, after the period
of the renaissance, a better spirit and a purer taste began to pervade the
artists of the church, and thenceforth the Supreme Being was represented
only by his name--the tetragrammaton--inscribed within an equilateral
triangle, and placed within a circle of rays. Didron, in his invaluable
work on Christian Iconography, gives one of these symbols, which was
carved on wood in the seventeenth century, of which I annex a copy.
[Illustration: tetragrammaton inscribed with an equilateral triangle and
placed within a circle of rays]
But even in the earliest ages, when the Deity was painted or sculptured as
a personage, the nimbus, or glory, which surrounded the head of the
Father, was often made to assume a triangular form. Didron says on this
subject, "A nimbus, of a triangular form, is thus seen to be the exclusive
attribute of the Deity, and most frequently restricted to the Father
Eternal. The other persons of the trinity sometimes wear the triangle, but
only in representations of the trinity, and because the Father is with
them. Still, even then, beside the Father, who has a triangle, the Son
and the Holy Ghost are often drawn with a circular nimbus only." 
The triangle has, in all ages and in all religions, been deemed a symbol
The Egyptians, the Greeks, and the other nations of antiquity, considered
this figure, with its three sides, as a symbol of the creative energy
displayed in the active and passive, or male and female, principles, and
their product, the world; the Christians referred it to their dogma of the
trinity as a manifestation of the Supreme God; and the Jews and the
primitive masons to the three periods of existence included in the
signification of the tetragrammaton--the past, the present, and the
In the higher degrees of Masonry, the triangle is the most important of
all symbols, and most generally assumes the name of the _Delta_, in
allusion to the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet, which is of the same
form and bears that appellation.
The Delta, or mystical triangle, is generally surrounded by a circle of
rays, called a "glory." When this glory is distinct from the figure, and
surrounds it in the form of a circle (as in the example just given from
Didron), it is then an emblem of God's eternal glory. When, as is most
usual in the masonic symbol, the rays emanate from the centre of the
triangle, and, as it were, enshroud it in their brilliancy, it is symbolic
of the Divine Light. The perverted ideas of the pagans referred these rays
of light to their Sun-god and their Sabian worship.
But the true masonic idea of this glory is, that it symbolizes that
Eternal Light of Wisdom which surrounds the Supreme Architect as with a
sea of glory, and from him, as a common centre, emanates to the universe
of his creation, and to which the prophet Ezekiel alludes in his eloquent
description of Jehovah: "And I saw as the color of amber, as the
appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins
even upward, and from his loins even downward, I saw, as it were, the
appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about." (Chap. 1,
Dante has also beautifully described this circumfused light of Deity:--
"There is in heaven a light whose goodly shine
Makes the Creator visible to all
Created, that in seeing him, alone
Have peace; and in a circle spreads so far,
That the circumference were too loose a zone
To girdle in the sun."
On a recapitulation, then, of the views that have been advanced in
relation to these three symbols of the Deity which are to be found in the
masonic system, we may say that each one expresses a different attribute.
The letter _G_ is the symbol of the self-existent Jehovah.
The _All-Seeing Eye_ is the symbol of the omnipresent God.
The _triangle_ is the symbol of the Supreme Architect of the
Universe--the Creator; and when surrounded by rays of glory, it becomes a
symbol of the Architect and Bestower of Light.
And now, after all, is there not in this whole prevalence of the name of
God, in so many different symbols, throughout the masonic system,
something more than a mere evidence of the religious proclivities of the
institution? Is there not behind this a more profound symbolism, which
constitutes, in fact, the very essence of Freemasonry? "The names of God,"
said a learned theologian at the beginning of this century, "were intended
to communicate the knowledge of God himself. By these, men were enabled to
receive some scanty ideas of his essential majesty, goodness, and power,
and to know both whom we are to believe, and what we are to believe of
And this train of thought is eminently applicable to the admission of the
name into the system of Masonry. With us, the name of God, however
expressed, is a symbol of DIVINE TRUTH, which it should be the incessant
labor of a Mason to seek.
The Legends of Freemasonry.
The compound character of a speculative science and an operative art,
which the masonic institution assumed at the building of King Solomon's
temple, in consequence of the union, at that era, of the Pure Freemasonry
of the Noachidae with the Spurious Freemasonry of the Tyrian workmen,
has supplied it with two distinct kinds of symbols--the _mythical_, or
_legendary_, and the _material_; but these are so thoroughly united in
object and design, that it is impossible to appreciate the one without an
investigation of the other.
Thus, by way of illustration, it may be observed, that the temple itself
has been adopted as a material symbol of the world (as I have already
shown in former articles), while the legendary history of the fate of its
builder is a mythical symbol of man's destiny in the world. Whatever is
visible or tangible to the senses in our types and emblems--such as the
implements of operative masonry, the furniture and ornaments of a lodge,
or the ladder of seven steps--is a _material symbol_; while whatever
derives its existence from tradition, and presents itself in the form of
an allegory or legend, is a _mythical symbol_. Hiram the Builder,
therefore, and all that refers to the legend of his connection with the
temple, and his fate,--such as the sprig of acacia, the hill near Mount
Moriah, and the lost word,--are to be considered as belonging to the class
of mythical or legendary symbols.
And this division is not arbitrary, but depends on the nature of the types
and the aspect in which they present themselves to our view.
Thus the sprig of acacia, although it is material, visible, and tangible,
is, nevertheless, not to be treated as a material symbol; for, as it
derives all its significance from its intimate connection with the legend
of Hiram Abif, which is a mythical symbol, it cannot, without a violent
and inexpedient disruption, be separated from the same class. For the same
reason, the small hill near Mount Moriah, the search of the twelve Fellow
Crafts, and the whole train of circumstances connected with the lost word,
are to be viewed simply as mythical or legendary, and not as material
These legends of Freemasonry constitute a considerable and a very
important part of its ritual. Without them, the most valuable portions of
the masonic as a scientific system would cease to exist. It is, in fact,
in the traditions and legends of Freemasonry, more, even, than in its
material symbols, that we are to find the deep religious instruction which
the institution is intended to inculcate. It must be remembered that
Freemasonry has been defined to be "a system of morality, veiled in
allegory and illustrated by symbols." Symbols, then, alone, do not
constitute the whole of the system: allegory comes in for its share; and
this allegory, which veils the divine truths of masonry, is presented to
the neophyte in the various legends which have been traditionally
preserved in the order.
The close connection, at least in design and method of execution, between
the institution of Freemasonry and the ancient Mysteries, which were
largely imbued with the mythical character of the ancient religions, led,
undoubtedly, to the introduction of the same mythical character into the
So general, indeed, was the diffusion of the myth or legend among the
philosophical, historical, and religious systems of antiquity, that Heyne
remarks, on this subject, that all the history and philosophy of the
ancients proceeded from myths.
The word _myth_, from the Greek μῦθος, _a story_, in its original
acceptation, signified simply a statement or narrative of an event,
without any necessary implication of truth or falsehood; but, as the word
is now used, it conveys the idea of a personal narrative of remote date,
which, although not necessarily untrue, is certified only by the internal
evidence of the tradition itself.
Creuzer, in his "Symbolik," says that myths and symbols were derived, on
the one hand, from the helpless condition and the poor and scanty
beginnings of religious knowledge among the ancient peoples, and on the
other, from the benevolent designs of the priests educated in the East, or
of Eastern origin, to form them to a purer and higher knowledge.
But the observations of that profoundly philosophical historian, Mr.
Grote, give so correct a view of the probable origin of this universality
of the mythical element in all the ancient religions, and are, withal, so
appropriate to the subject of masonic legends which I am now about to
discuss, that I cannot justly refrain from a liberal quotation of his
"The allegorical interpretation of the myths," he says, "has been, by
several learned investigators, especially by Creuzer, connected with the
hypothesis of an ancient and highly-instructed body of priests, having
their origin either in Egypt or the East, and communicating to the rude
and barbarous Greeks religious, physical, and historical knowledge, under
the veil of symbols. At a time (we are told) when language was yet in its
infancy, visible symbols were the most vivid means of acting upon the
minds of ignorant hearers. The next step was to pass to symbolical
language and expressions; for a plain and literal exposition, even if
understood at all, would at least have been listened to with indifference,
as not corresponding with any mental demand. In such allegorizing way,
then, the early priests set forth their doctrines respecting God, nature,
and humanity,--a refined monotheism and theological philosophy,--and to
this purpose the earliest myths were turned. But another class of myths,
more popular and more captivating, grew up under the hands of the
poets--myths purely epical, and descriptive of real or supposed past
events. The allegorical myths, being taken up by the poets, insensibly
became confounded in the same category with the purely narrative myths;
the matter symbolized was no longer thought of, while the symbolizing
words came to be construed in their own literal meaning, and the basis of
the early allegory, thus lost among the general public, was only preserved
as a secret among various religious fraternities, composed of members
allied together by initiation in certain mystical ceremonies, and
administered by hereditary families of presiding priests.
"In the Orphic and Bacchic sects, in the Eleusinian and Samothracian
Mysteries, was thus treasured up the secret doctrine of the old
theological and philosophical myths, which had once constituted the
primitive legendary stock of Greece in the hands of the original
priesthood and in the ages anterior to Homer. Persons who had gone through
the preliminary ceremonies of initiation were permitted at length to hear,
though under strict obligation of secrecy, this ancient religion and
cosmogonic doctrine, revealing the destination of man and the certainty
of posthumous rewards and punishments, all disengaged from the corruptions
of poets, as well as from the symbols and allegories under which they
still remained buried in the eyes of the vulgar. The Mysteries of Greece
were thus traced up to the earliest ages, and represented as the only
faithful depositaries of that purer theology and physics which had been
originally communicated, though under the unavoidable inconvenience of a
symbolical expression, by an enlightened priesthood, coming from abroad,
to the then rude barbarians of the country." 
In this long but interesting extract we find not only a philosophical
account of the origin and design of the ancient myths, but a fair synopsis
of all that can be taught in relation to the symbolical construction of
Freemasonry, as one of the depositaries of a mythical theology.
The myths of Masonry, at first perhaps nothing more than the simple
traditions of the Pure Freemasonry of the antediluvian system, having been
corrupted and misunderstood in the separation of the races, were again
purified, and adapted to the inculcation of truth, at first by the
disciples of the Spurious Freemasonry, and then, more fully and perfectly,
in the development of that system which we now practise. And if there be
any leaven of error still remaining in the interpretation of our masonic
myths, we must seek to disengage them from the corruptions with which they
have been invested by ignorance and by misinterpretation. We must give to
them their true significance, and trace them back to those ancient
doctrines and faith whence the ideas which they are intended to embody
The myths or legends which present themselves to our attention in the
course of a complete study of the symbolic system of Freemasonry may be
considered as divided into three classes:--
1. The historical myth.
2. The philosophical myth.
3. The mythical history.
And these three classes may be defined as follows:--
1. The myth may be engaged in the transmission of a narrative of early
deeds and events, having a foundation in truth, which truth, however, has
been greatly distorted and perverted by the omission or introduction of
circumstances and personages, and then it constitutes the _historical
2. Or it may have been invented and adopted as the medium of enunciating a
particular thought, or of inculcating a certain doctrine, when it becomes
a _philosophical myth_.
3. Or, lastly, the truthful elements of actual history may greatly
predominate over the fictitious and invented materials of the myth, and
the narrative may be, in the main, made up of facts, with a slight
coloring of imagination, when it forms a _mythical history_.
These form the three divisions of the legend or myth (for I am not
disposed, on the present occasion, like some of the German mythological
writers, to make a distinction between the two words); and to one of
these three divisions we must appropriate every legend which belongs to
the mythical symbolism of Freemasonry.
These masonic myths partake, in their general character, of the nature of
the myths which constituted the foundation of the ancient religions, as
they have just been described in the language of Mr. Grote. Of these
latter myths, Müller says that "their source is to be found, for the
most part, in oral tradition," and that the real and the ideal--that is to
say, the facts of history and the inventions of imagination--concurred, by
their union and reciprocal fusion, in producing the myth.
Those are the very principles that govern the construction of the masonic
myths or legends. These, too, owe their existence entirely to oral
tradition, and are made up, as I have just observed, of a due admixture of
the real and the ideal--the true and the false--the facts of history and
the inventions of allegory.
Dr. Oliver remarks that "the first series of historical facts, after the
fall of man, must necessarily have been traditional, and transmitted from
father to son by oral communication."  The same system, adopted in
all the Mysteries, has been continued in the masonic institution; and all
the esoteric instructions contained in the legends of Freemasonry are
forbidden to be written, and can be communicated only in the oral
intercourse of Freemasons with each other.
De Wette, in his Criticism on the Mosaic History, lays down the test by
which a myth is to be distinguished from a strictly historical narrative,
as follows, namely: that the myth must owe its origin to the intention of
the inventor not to satisfy the natural thirst for historical truth by a
simple narration of facts, but rather to delight or touch the feelings, or
to illustrate some philosophical or religious truth.
This definition precisely fits the character of the myths of Masonry.
Take, for instance, the legend of the master's degree, or the myth of
Hiram Abif. As "a simple narration of facts," it is of no great
value--certainly not of value commensurate with the labor that has been
engaged in its transmission. Its invention--by which is meant, not the
invention or imagination of all the incidents of which it is composed, for
there are abundant materials of the true and real in its details, but its
invention or composition in the form of a myth by the addition of some
features, the suppression of others, and the general arrangement of the
whole--was not intended to add a single item to the great mass of history,
but altogether, as De Wette says, "to illustrate a philosophical or
religious truth," which truth, it is hardly necessary for me to say, is
the doctrine of the immortality of the soul.
It must be evident, from all that has been said respecting the analogy in
origin and design between the masonic and the ancient religious myths,
that no one acquainted with the true science of this subject can, for a
moment, contend that all the legends and traditions of the order are, to
the very letter, historical facts. All that can be claimed for them is,
that in some there is simply a substratum of history, the edifice
constructed on this foundation being purely inventive, to serve us a
medium for inculcating some religious truth; in others, nothing more than
an idea to which the legend or myth is indebted for its existence, and of
which it is, as a symbol, the exponent; and in others, again, a great deal
of truthful narrative, more or less intermixed with fiction, but the
historical always predominating.
Thus there is a legend, contained in some of our old records, which states
that Euclid was a distinguished Mason, and that he introduced Masonry
among the Egyptians. Now, it is not at all necessary to the orthodoxy
of a Mason's creed that he should literally believe that Euclid, the great
geometrician, was really a Freemason, and that the ancient Egyptians were
indebted to him for the establishment of the institution among them.
Indeed, the palpable anachronism in the legend which makes Euclid the
contemporary of Abraham necessarily prohibits any such belief, and shows
that the whole story is a sheer invention. The intelligent Mason, however,
will not wholly reject the legend, as ridiculous or absurd; but, with a
due sense of the nature and design of our system of symbolism, will rather
accept it as what, in the classification laid down on a preceding page,
would be called "a philosophical myth"--an ingenious method of conveying,
symbolically, a masonic truth.
Euclid is here very appropriately used as a type of geometry, that science
of which he was so eminent a teacher, and the myth or legend then
symbolizes the fact that there was in Egypt a close connection between
that science and the great moral and religious system, which was among the
Egyptians, as well as other ancient nations, what Freemasonry is in the
present day--a secret institution, established for the inculcation of the
same principles, and inculcating them in the same symbolic manner. So
interpreted, this legend corresponds to all the developments of Egyptian
history, which teach us how close a connection existed in that country
between the religious and scientific systems. Thus Kenrick tells us, that
"when we read of foreigners [in Egypt] being obliged to submit to painful
and tedious ceremonies of initiation, it was not that they might learn the
secret meaning of the rites of Osiris or Isis, but that they might partake
of the knowledge of astronomy, physic, geometry, and theology." 
Another illustration will be found in the myth or legend of the _Winding
Stairs_, by which the Fellow Crafts are said to have ascended to the
middle chamber to receive their wages. Now, this myth, taken in its
literal sense, is, in all its parts, opposed to history and probability.
As a myth, it finds its origin in the fact that there was a place in the
temple called the "Middle Chamber," and that there were "winding stairs"
by which it was reached; for we read, in the First Book of Kings, that
"they went up with winding stairs into the middle chamber."  But we
have no historical evidence that the stairs were of the construction, or
that the chamber was used for the purpose, indicated in the mythical
narrative, as it is set forth in the ritual of the second degree. The
whole legend is, in fact, an historical myth, in which the mystic number
of the steps, the process of passing to the chamber, and the wages there
received, are inventions added to or ingrafted on the fundamental history
contained in the sixth chapter of Kings, to inculcate important symbolic
instruction relative to the principles of the order. These lessons might,
it is true, have been inculcated in a dry, didactic form; but the
allegorical and mythical method adopted tends to make a stronger and
deeper impression on the mind, and at the same time serves more closely
to connect the institution of Masonry with the ancient temple.
Again: the myth which traces the origin of the institution of Freemasonry
to the beginning of the world, making its commencement coeval with the
creation,--a myth which is, even at this day, ignorantly interpreted, by
some, as an historical fact, and the reference to which is still preserved
in the date of "anno lucis," which is affixed to all masonic
documents,--is but a philosophical myth, symbolizing the idea which
analogically connects the creation of physical light in the universe with
the birth of masonic or spiritual and intellectual light in the candidate.
The one is the type of the other. When, therefore, Preston says that "from
the commencement of the world we may trace the foundation of Masonry," and
when he goes on to assert that "ever since symmetry began, and harmony
displayed her charms, our order has had a being," we are not to suppose
that Preston intended to teach that a masonic lodge was held in the Garden
of Eden. Such a supposition would justly subject us to the ridicule of
every intelligent person. The only idea intended to be conveyed is this:
that the principles of Freemasonry, which, indeed, are entirely
independent of any special organization which it may have as a society,
are coeval with the existence of the world; that when God said, "Let there
be light," the material light thus produced was an antitype of that
spiritual light that must burst upon the mind of every candidate when his
intellectual world, theretofore "without form and void," becomes adorned
and peopled with the living thoughts and divine principles which
constitute the great system of Speculative Masonry, and when the spirit of
the institution, brooding over the vast deep of his mental chaos, shall,
from intellectual darkness, bring forth intellectual light.
In the legends of the Master's degree and of the Royal Arch there is a
commingling of the historical myth and the mythical history, so that
profound judgment is often required to discriminate these differing
elements. As, for example, the legend of the third degree is, in some of
its details, undoubtedly mythical--in others, just as undoubtedly
historical. The difficulty, however, of separating the one from the other,
and of distinguishing the fact from the fiction, has necessarily produced
a difference of opinion on the subject among masonic writers. Hutchinson,
and, after him, Oliver, think the whole legend an allegory or
philosophical myth. I am inclined, with Anderson and the earlier writers,
to suppose it a mythical history. In the Royal Arch degree, the legend of
the rebuilding of the temple is clearly historical; but there are so many
accompanying circumstances, which are uncertified, except by oral
tradition, as to give to the entire narrative the appearance of a mythical
history. The particular legend of the _three weary sojourners_ is
undoubtedly a myth, and perhaps merely a philosophical one, or the
enunciation of an idea--namely, the reward of successful perseverance,
through all dangers, in the search for divine truth.
"To form symbols and to interpret symbols," says the learned Creuzer,
"were the main occupation of the ancient priesthood." Upon the studious
Mason the same task of interpretation devolves. He who desires properly
to appreciate the profound wisdom of the institution of which he is the
disciple, must not be content, with uninquiring credulity, to accept all
the traditions that are imparted to him as veritable histories; nor yet,
with unphilosophic incredulity, to reject them in a mass, as fabulous
inventions. In these extremes there is equal error. "The myth," says
Hermann, "is the representation of an idea." It is for that idea that the
student must search in the myths of Masonry. Beneath every one of them
there is something richer and more spiritual than the mere narrative.
This spiritual essence he must learn to extract from the ore in which,
like a precious metal, it lies imbedded. It is this that constitutes the
true value of Freemasonry. Without its symbols, and its myths or legends,
and the ideas and conceptions which lie at the bottom of them, the time,
the labor, and the expense incurred in perpetuating the institution, would
be thrown away. Without them, it would be a "vain and empty show." Its
grips and signs are worth nothing, except for social purposes, as mere
means of recognition. So, too, would be its words, were it not that they
are, for the most part, symbolic. Its social habits and its charities are
but incidental points in its constitution--of themselves good, it is true,
but capable of being attained in a simpler way. Its true value, as a
science, consists in its symbolism--in the great lessons of divine truth
which it teaches, and in the admirable manner in which it accomplishes
that teaching. Every one, therefore, who desires to be a skilful Mason,
must not suppose that the task is accomplished by a perfect knowledge of
the mere phraseology of the ritual, by a readiness in opening and closing
a lodge, nor by an off-hand capacity to confer degrees. All these are good
in their places, but without the internal meaning they are but mere
child's play. He must study the myths, the traditions, and the symbols of
the order, and learn their true interpretation; for this alone constitutes
the science and the philosophy--the end, aim, and design of Speculative
The Legend of the Winding Stairs.
Before proceeding to the examination of those more important mythical
legends which appropriately belong to the Master's degree, it will not, I
think, be unpleasing or uninstructive to consider the only one which is
attached to the Fellow Craft's degree--that, namely, which refers to the
allegorical ascent of the Winding Stairs to the Middle Chamber, and the
symbolic payment of the workmen's wages.
Although the legend of the Winding Stairs forms an important tradition of
Ancient Craft Masonry, the only allusion to it in Scripture is to be found
in a single verse in the sixth chapter of the First Book of Kings, and is
in these words: "The door for the middle chamber was in the right side of
the house; and they went up with winding stairs into the middle chamber,
and out of the middle into the third." Out of this slender material has
been constructed an allegory, which, if properly considered in its
symbolical relations, will be found to be of surpassing beauty. But it is
only as a symbol that we can regard this whole tradition; for the
historical facts and the architectural details alike forbid us for a
moment to suppose that the legend, as it is rehearsed in the second degree
of Masonry, is anything more than a magnificent philosophical myth.
Let us inquire into the true design of this legend, and learn the lesson
of symbolism which it is intended to teach.
In the investigation of the true meaning of every masonic symbol and
allegory, we must be governed by the single principle that the whole
design of Freemasonry as a speculative science is the investigation of
divine truth. To this great object everything is subsidiary. The Mason is,
from the moment of his initiation as an Entered Apprentice, to the time at
which he receives the full fruition of masonic light, an investigator--a
laborer in the quarry and the temple--whose reward is to be Truth. All the
ceremonies and traditions of the order tend to this ultimate design. Is
there light to be asked for? It is the intellectual light of wisdom and
truth. Is there a word to be sought? That word is the symbol of truth. Is
there a loss of something that had been promised? That loss is typical of
the failure of man, in the infirmity of his nature, to discover divine
truth. Is there a substitute to be appointed for that loss? It is an
allegory which teaches us that in this world man can only approximate to
the full conception of truth.
Hence there is in Speculative Masonry always a progress, symbolized by its
peculiar ceremonies of initiation. There is an advancement from a lower to
a higher state--from darkness to light--from death to life--from error to
truth. The candidate is always ascending; he is never stationary; he
never goes back, but each step he takes brings him to some new mental
illumination--to the knowledge of some more elevated doctrine. The
teaching of the Divine Master is, in respect to this continual progress,
the teaching of Masonry--"No man having put his hand to the plough, and
looking back, is fit for the kingdom of heaven." And similar to this is
the precept of Pythagoras: "When travelling, turn not back, for if you do
the Furies will accompany you."
Now, this principle of masonic symbolism is apparent in many places in
each of the degrees. In that of the Entered Apprentice we find it
developed in the theological ladder, which, resting on earth, leans its
top upon heaven, thus inculcating the idea of an ascent from a lower to a
higher sphere, as the object of masonic labor. In the Master's degree we
find it exhibited in its most religious form, in the restoration from
death to life--in the change from the obscurity of the grave to the holy
of holies of the Divine Presence. In all the degrees we find it presented
in the ceremony of circumambulation, in which there is a gradual
inquisition, and a passage from an inferior to a superior officer. And
lastly, the same symbolic idea is conveyed in the Fellow Craft's degree in
the legend of the Winding Stairs.
In an investigation of the symbolism of the Winding Stairs we shall be
directed to the true explanation by a reference to their origin, their
number, the objects which they recall, and their termination, but above
all by a consideration of the great design which an ascent upon them was
intended to accomplish.
The steps of this Winding Staircase commenced, we are informed, at the
porch of the temple; that is to say, at its very entrance. But nothing is
more undoubted in the science of masonic symbolism than that the temple
was the representative of the world purified by the Shekinah, or the
Divine Presence. The world of the profane is without the temple; the world
of the initiated is within its sacred walls. Hence to enter the temple, to
pass within the porch, to be made a Mason, and to be born into the world
of masonic light, are all synonymous and convertible terms. Here, then,
the symbolism of the Winding Stairs begins.
The Apprentice, having entered within the porch of the temple, has begun
his masonic life. But the first degree in Masonry, like the lesser
Mysteries of the ancient systems of initiation, is only a preparation and
purification for something higher. The Entered Apprentice is the child in
Masonry. The lessons which he receives are simply intended to cleanse the
heart and prepare the recipient for that mental illumination which is to
be given in the succeeding degrees.
As a Fellow Craft, he has advanced another step, and as the degree is
emblematic of youth, so it is here that the intellectual education of the
candidate begins. And therefore, here, at the very spot which separates
the Porch from the Sanctuary, where childhood ends and manhood begins, he
finds stretching out before him a winding stair which invites him, as it
were, to ascend, and which, as the symbol of discipline and instruction,
teaches him that here must commence his masonic labor--here he must enter
upon those glorious though difficult researches, the end of which is to be
the possession of divine truth. The Winding Stairs begin after the
candidate has passed within the Porch and between the pillars of Strength
and Establishment, as a significant symbol to teach him that as soon as he
has passed beyond the years of irrational childhood, and commenced his
entrance upon manly life, the laborious task of self-improvement is the
first duty that is placed before him. He cannot stand still, if he would
be worthy of his vocation; his destiny as an immortal being requires him
to ascend, step by step, until he has reached the summit, where the
treasures of knowledge await him.
The number of these steps in all the systems has been odd. Vitruvius
remarks--and the coincidence is at least curious--that the ancient temples
were always ascended by an odd number of steps; and he assigns as the
reason, that, commencing with the right foot at the bottom, the worshipper
would find the same foot foremost when he entered the temple, which was
considered as a fortunate omen. But the fact is, that the symbolism of
numbers was borrowed by the Masons from Pythagoras, in whose system of
philosophy it plays an important part, and in which odd numbers were
considered as more perfect than even ones. Hence, throughout the masonic
system we find a predominance of odd numbers; and while three, five,
seven, nine, fifteen, and twenty-seven, are all-important symbols, we
seldom find a reference to two, four, six, eight, or ten. The odd number
of the stairs was therefore intended to symbolize the idea of perfection,
to which it was the object of the aspirant to attain.
As to the particular number of the stairs, this has varied at different
periods. Tracing-boards of the last century have been found, in which only
_five_ steps are delineated, and others in which they amount to _seven_.
The Prestonian lectures, used in England in the beginning of this century,
gave the whole number as thirty-eight, dividing them into series of one,
three, five, seven, nine, and eleven. The error of making an even number,
which was a violation of the Pythagorean principle of odd numbers as the
symbol of perfection, was corrected in the Hemming lectures, adopted at
the union of the two Grand Lodges of England, by striking out the eleven,
which was also objectionable as receiving a sectarian explanation. In this
country the number was still further reduced to _fifteen_, divided into
three series of _three, five_, and _seven_. I shall adopt this American
division in explaining the symbolism, although, after all, the particular
number of the steps, or the peculiar method of their division into
series, will not in any way affect the general symbolism of the whole
The candidate, then, in the second degree of Masonry, represents a man
starting forth on the journey of life, with the great task before him of
self-improvement. For the faithful performance of this task, a reward is
promised, which reward consists in the development of all his intellectual
faculties, the moral and spiritual elevation of his character, and the
acquisition of truth and knowledge. Now, the attainment of this moral and
intellectual condition supposes an elevation of character, an ascent from
a lower to a higher life, and a passage of toil and difficulty, through
rudimentary instruction, to the full fruition of wisdom. This is therefore
beautifully symbolized by the Winding Stairs; at whose foot the aspirant
stands ready to climb the toilsome steep, while at its top is placed "that
hieroglyphic bright which none but Craftsmen ever saw," as the emblem of
divine truth. And hence a distinguished writer has said that "these steps,
like all the masonic symbols, are illustrative of discipline and doctrine,
as well as of natural, mathematical, and metaphysical science, and open to
us an extensive range of moral and speculative inquiry."
The candidate, incited by the love of virtue and the desire of knowledge,
and withal eager for the reward of truth which is set before him, begins
at once the toilsome ascent. At each division he pauses to gather
instruction from the symbolism which these divisions present to his
At the first pause which he makes he is instructed in the peculiar
organization of the order of which he has become a disciple. But the
information here given, if taken in its naked, literal sense, is barren,
and unworthy of his labor. The rank of the officers who govern, and the
names of the degrees which constitute the institution, can give him no
knowledge which he has not before possessed. We must look therefore to the
symbolic meaning of these allusions for any value which may be attached to
this part of the ceremony.
The reference to the organization of the masonic institution is intended
to remind the aspirant of the union of men in society, and the development
of the social state out of the state of nature. He is thus reminded, in
the very outset of his journey, of the blessings which arise from
civilization, and of the fruits of virtue and knowledge which are derived
from that condition. Masonry itself is the result of civilization; while,
in grateful return, it has been one of the most important means of
extending that condition of mankind.
All the monuments of antiquity that the ravages of time have left, combine
to prove that man had no sooner emerged from the savage into the social
state, than he commenced the organization of religious mysteries, and the
separation, by a sort of divine instinct, of the sacred from the profane.
Then came the invention of architecture as a means of providing convenient
dwellings and necessary shelter from the inclemencies and vicissitudes of
the seasons, with all the mechanical arts connected with it; and lastly,
geometry, as a necessary science to enable the cultivators of land to
measure and designate the limits of their possessions. All these are
claimed as peculiar characteristics of Speculative Masonry, which may be
considered as the type of civilization, the former bearing the same
relation to the profane world as the latter does to the savage state.
Hence we at once see the fitness of the symbolism which commences the
aspirant's upward progress in the cultivation of knowledge and the search
after truth, by recalling to his mind the condition of civilization and
the social union of mankind as necessary preparations for the attainment
of these objects. In the allusions to the officers of a lodge, and the
degrees of Masonry as explanatory of the organization of our own society,
we clothe in our symbolic language the history of the organization of
Advancing in his progress, the candidate is invited to contemplate another
series of instructions. The human senses, as the appropriate channels
through which we receive all our ideas of perception, and which,
therefore, constitute the most important sources of our knowledge, are
here referred to as a symbol of intellectual cultivation. Architecture, as
the most important of the arts which conduce to the comfort of mankind, is
also alluded to here, not simply because it is so closely connected with
the operative institution of Masonry, but also as the type of all the
other useful arts. In his second pause, in the ascent of the Winding
Stairs, the aspirant is therefore reminded of the necessity of cultivating
So far, then, the instructions he has received relate to his own condition
in society as a member of the great social compact, and to his means of
becoming, by a knowledge of the arts of practical life, a necessary and
useful member of that society.
But his motto will be, "Excelsior." Still must he go onward and forward.
The stair is still before him; its summit is not yet reached, and still
further treasures of wisdom are to be sought for, or the reward will not
be gained, nor the _middle chamber_, the abiding place of truth, be
In his third pause, he therefore arrives at that point in which the whole
circle of human science is to be explained. Symbols, we know, are in
themselves arbitrary and of conventional signification, and the complete
circle of human science might have been as well symbolized by any other
sign or series of doctrines as by the seven liberal arts and sciences. But
Masonry is an institution of the olden time; and this selection of the
liberal arts and sciences as a symbol of the completion of human learning
is one of the most pregnant evidences that we have of its antiquity.
In the seventh century, and for a long time afterwards, the circle of
instruction to which all the learning of the most eminent schools and most
distinguished philosophers was confined, was limited to what were then
called the liberal arts and sciences, and consisted of two branches, the
_trivium_ and the _quadrivium_. The _trivium_ included grammar,
rhetoric, and logic; the _quadrivium_ comprehended arithmetic, geometry,
music, and astronomy.
"These seven heads," says Enfield, "were supposed to include universal
knowledge. He who was master of these was thought to have no need of a
preceptor to explain any books or to solve any questions which lay within
the compass of human reason, the knowledge of the _trivium_ having
furnished him with the key to all language, and that of the _quadrivium_
having opened to him the secret laws of nature." 
At a period, says the same writer, when few were instructed in the
_trivium_, and very few studied the _quadrivium_, to be master of both was
sufficient to complete the character of a philosopher. The propriety,
therefore, of adopting the seven liberal arts and sciences as a symbol of
the completion of human learning is apparent. The candidate, having
reached this point, is now supposed to have accomplished the task upon
which he had entered--he has reached the last step, and is now ready to
receive the full fruition of human learning.
So far, then, we are able to comprehend the true symbolism of the Winding
Stairs. They represent the progress of an inquiring mind with the toils
and labors of intellectual cultivation and study, and the preparatory
acquisition of all human science, as a preliminary step to the attainment
of divine truth, which it must be remembered is always symbolized in
Masonry by the WORD.
Here let me again allude to the symbolism of numbers, which is for the
first time presented to the consideration of the masonic student in the
legend of the Winding Stairs. The theory of numbers as the symbols of
certain qualities was originally borrowed by the Masons from the school of
Pythagoras. It will be impossible, however, to develop this doctrine, in
its entire extent, on the present occasion, for the numeral symbolism of
Masonry would itself constitute materials for an ample essay. It will be
sufficient to advert to the fact that the total number of the steps,
amounting in all to _fifteen_, in the American system, is a significant
symbol. For _fifteen_ was a sacred number among the Orientals, because the
letters of the holy name JAH, הי, were, in their numerical
value, equivalent to fifteen; and hence a figure in which the nine digits
were so disposed as to make fifteen either way when added together
perpendicularly, horizontally, or diagonally, constituted one of their
most sacred talismans. The fifteen steps in the Winding Stairs are
therefore symbolic of the name of God.
But we are not yet done. It will be remembered that a reward was promised
for all this toilsome ascent of the Winding Stairs. Now, what are the
wages of a Speculative Mason? Not money, nor corn, nor wine, nor oil. All
these are but symbols. His wages are TRUTH, or that approximation to it
which will be most appropriate to the degree into which he has been
initiated. It is one of the most beautiful, but at the same time most
abstruse, doctrines of the science of masonic symbolism, that the Mason is
ever to be in search of truth, but is never to find it. This divine truth,
the object of all his labors, is symbolized by the WORD, for which we all
know he can only obtain a _substitute_; and this is intended to teach the
humiliating but necessary lesson that the knowledge of the nature of God
and of man's relation to him, which knowledge constitutes divine truth,
can never be acquired in this life. It is only when the portals of the
grave open to us, and give us an entrance into a more perfect life, that
this knowledge is to be attained. "Happy is the man," says the father of
lyric poetry, "who descends beneath the hollow earth, having beheld these
mysteries; he knows the end, he knows the origin of life."
The Middle Chamber is therefore symbolic of this life, where the symbol
only of the word can be given, where the truth is to be reached by
approximation only, and yet where we are to learn that that truth will
consist in a perfect knowledge of the G.A.O.T.U. This is the reward of the
inquiring Mason; in this consist the wages of a Fellow Craft; he is
directed to the truth, but must travel farther and ascend still higher to
It is, then, as a symbol, and a symbol only, that we must study this
beautiful legend of the Winding Stairs. If we attempt to adopt it as an
historical fact, the absurdity of its details stares us in the face, and
wise men will wonder at our credulity. Its inventors had no desire thus to
impose upon our folly; but offering it to us as a great philosophical
myth, they did not for a moment suppose that we would pass over its
sublime moral teachings to accept the allegory as an historical narrative,
without meaning, and wholly irreconcilable with the records of Scripture,
and opposed by all the principles of probability. To suppose that eighty
thousand craftsmen were weekly paid in the narrow precincts of the temple
chambers, is simply to suppose an absurdity. But to believe that all this
pictorial representation of an ascent by a Winding Staircase to the place
where the wages of labor were to be received, was an allegory to teach us
the ascent of the mind from ignorance, through all the toils of study and
the difficulties of obtaining knowledge, receiving here a little and there
a little, adding something to the stock of our ideas at each step, until,
in the middle chamber of life,--in the full fruition of manhood,--the
reward is attained, and the purified and elevated intellect is invested
with the reward in the direction how to seek God and God's truth,--to
believe this is to believe and to know the true design of Speculative
Masonry, the only design which makes it worthy of a good or a wise man's
Its historical details are barren, but its symbols and allegories are
fertile with instruction.
The 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 Degree.
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:--
"It (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 fraternity with great joy. But their joy was soon
interrupted by the sudden death of their dear master, Hiram Abif, whom
they decently interred, in the lodge near the temple, according to ancient
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."  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
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
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 initiation.
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. 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. But 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. The 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 Phnician, 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 reflective mind?
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," 
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
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
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."
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 _euresis_, 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
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
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.
Hutchinson, who 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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
The Templar 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.
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
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."
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 length developed.
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 but striking
analogies, which will, I conceive, carry conviction to any thinking mind.
1. Mount Calvary was a _small hill_.
2. It was situated in a _westward direction_ from the temple, and _near
3. It 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_.
4. It was _outside_ the gate of the temple.
5. It 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 sepulture,
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.
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
forefather, Adam."  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
"Who 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 of heaven.
"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.--_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 of salvation."
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
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 consider.
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;
that, 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_.
Unfortunately, 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.
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." 
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. There is, 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.
The _acacia_, 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.
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
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 mythic 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. Potter tells us that the ancient Greeks "had a custom of
bedecking tombs with herbs and flowers."  All 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."  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
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 αϗαϗια, 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.
Hutchinson, 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." 
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 quince among the Greeks was the symbol of love and happiness; 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
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.
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.
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
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 initiation.
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
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. 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
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