Symbolism in Freemasonry
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A symbol is something that we can all see, hear, feel or otherwise sense that serves to remind us of something more personal within ourselves, and about which we may have stronger feelings. The symbols in Masonry represent the morality, the ethics, and the values we as Masons and as individuals hold dear. They remind us to observe and practice them. They remind us to keep them important in our lives.
More than that, the symbols inspire us to reach new heights, strike out in new directions and set new goals. There are many ways to consider an object. Two of the most used in Masonry are literally and symbolically. In one of our lectures, we pay respects to the letter in the East. A literal consideration would be that we are respecting the letter, or the physical object mounted on the wall.
This, of course, is nonsense. The seventh letter of the English alphabet is not deserving of our particular notice, as a letter. Because we use a symbol, instead of a literal, we do not have to agree on the details. Similarly, when considering the many references to His Holy Word in our ritual, we use them symbolically in most cases , not literally.
However, the rest are strictly symbolic. In that same manner, references to anything in our laws, rules and regulations are necessarily literal,, uniform and specific. There is a sharp and noticeable distinction, an obvious point of demarcation, between what is fact and what is fiction in our ritual. Throughout our Degrees, certain terms are used. What he is about to describe is the way it was, or what happened. It is a symbolic teaching and not a historical lesson. The lesson would not change. However, our law is very clear. It cannot be removed. It cannot be lower case. Fortunately, because ritual does not affect law, and law does not affect ritual, the possible contradictions that might arise from this do not occur.
Our ritual is what it is, and exists to instruct our minds and inspire our spirits.
12 Masonic Symbols Explained
Our law is what it is, and exists to bind our behavior and regulate our actions. The allegory would hold, even if it were based in fiction. Similarly, it would make no difference to Masonry if Hyram Abiff were not in fact slain, but lived to complete the Temple, got a performance bonus from Solomon, retired on a nice pension and spent his twilight years touring the world in his motor home.
The lessons taught would be no less valid. We would be no less Masonic. In fact, it is most likely that the legend of the Third Degree is fiction. Scripture does not record a murder during the building of the Temple. Even if a murder had been committed and somehow gone unrecorded, the body would not — COULD not — have been reduced to ashes.
Cremation did not exist, and Jewish law specifically forbids it anyway. Jewish law required that cadavers be buried without the gates of the city, and the Temple was Hallowed Ground. It is allegory. Like words which are in themselves symbols , symbols mean different things to different individuals, in different contexts. Where there is general agreement, there is also communication. Ideas, particularly moral and ethical ones, can be communicated much more effectively, in my experience, when they are symbolically represented.
I am coming to understand that Masonry does define the symbols it uses most of them, anyway. But the definitions are only in the most general terms. The Plumb signifies that we should ever remember to walk uprightly. The beehive that we should be industrious, and so on.
Nowhere that I can find, in any of the symbols or teachings in Masonry, is there more than the most general definition.
What form should our industry take? All these, and other, questions are left for the individual to determine for himself, in the context of his life, as he finds best. Does patriotism mean voting for or against this issue? Is it my duty as a neighbor to advise the folks next door that their back-yard target practice is bothering the neighbors, or is it my duty to call the cops and have them restore the peace and good order of the neighborhood?
Does Brotherly Love mean that I should loan my friend the money, or is it better to help him find a job? Should I draw a card or stand pat? Alien outside of the lodge, within the tiled lodge it represents the totality of what it means to be a Mason. There is no one of the symbols of Speculative Masonry more important in its teachings, or more interesting in its history, than the lambskin, or white leather apron. The Neo-Platonicians introduced at an early period of the Christian era an apparently new science, which they called the Sacred Science, which materially influenced the subsequent condition of the arts and sciences.
From this time the study of alchemy was openly followed.
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In the Middle Ages, and up to the end of the seventeenth century, it was an important science, studied by some of the most distinguished philosophers, such as Avicenna, Albertus Magnus, Raymond Lulli, Roger Bacon, Elias Ashmole, and many others. Alchemy-called also the Hermetic Philosophy , because it is said to have been first taught in Egypt by Hermes Trismegistus. Freemasonry and alchemy have sought the same results the lesson of Divine Truth and the doctrine of immortal life , and they have both sought it by the same method of symbolism.
It is not, therefore, strange that in the eighteenth century, and perhaps before, we find an incorporation of much of the science of alchemy into that of Freemasonry. Hermetic rites and Hermetic degrees were common, and their relics are still to be found existing in degrees which do not absolutely trace their origin to alchemy, but which show some of its traces in their rituals. The Twenty-eighth Degree of the Scottish Rite, is entirely a Hermetic degree, and claims its parentage in the title of Adept of Masonry , by which it is sometimes known.
The Ashlars are not just two pieces of stone. They represent what we have been and what we hope to be. It is up to each individual Mason to pass his own judgment on himself and to adjust his jewels accordingly, so that when the time comes and he lays down his tools and makes the final journey to the Grand Lodge Above, he may leave behind a reputation as a wise counselor, a pillar of strength and stability, a Perfect Ashlar on which younger Masons may test the correctness and value of their own contribution to the Masonic order.
More on the Masonic ashlars. The ark has already been shown to have been an emblem common to Freemasonry and the Ancient Mysteries, as a symbol of regeneration—of the second birth from death to life. Now, in the Mysteries, a hive was the type of the ark. More on the Beehive in Freemasonry. Our Ancient English brethren also considered it an emblem of the Sun.
Time, the weeping virgin and the broken column.
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In Freemasonry, the broken column is, as Master Freemasons well know, the emblem of the fall of one of the chief supporters of the Craft. The use of the column or pillars as a monument erected over a tomb was a very ancient custom, and was a very significant symbol of the character and spirit of the person interred. It is accredited to Jeremy L. Cross that he first introduced the Broken Column into the ceremonies, but this may not be true. Saturn standing behind her and pointing to the summit of the zodiacal arch denotes that Time will heal her sorrows, and, when the year has filled its circuit, her lord the sun will arise from the grave of winter, and, triumphing over all the powers of darkness, come again to her embraces.
More on the broken column. More on the weeping virgin.
The Symbolism of Freemasonry: XXIII. Symbolism of the Corner-Stone
On this principle Masonry unites men of every country, sect and opinion; and cause true friendship to exist among those who otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance. One of the greatest enigmas of contemporary Freemasonry, the Chamber of Reflection is a little-used aspect in the rituals of a newly made Mason. Yet, the symbolism of the Chamber has roots in Hermeticism, Rosicrucianism and other occult traditions. There he shall leave the dealings of the exterior world, there will be an interior abstraction, like the original matrix, so that he can emerge from the depths of the earth the chaotic dense matter to the subtleness of the spirit.
The former, therefore, is an emblem of what concerns the earth and the body; the latter of what concerns the heavens and the soul. Yet the Compass is also used in plane trigonometry, as in erecting perpendiculars; and, therefore, you are reminded that, although in this Degree both points of the Compass are under the Square, and you are now dealing only with the moral and political meaning of the symbols, and not with their philosophical and spiritual meanings, still the divine ever mingles with the human; with the earthly the spiritual intermixes; and there is something spiritual in the commonest duties of life.
Corn, wine and oil were the wages paid our ancient brethren. Masons of this day receive no material wages for their labors; the work done in a lodge is paid for only in coin of the heart. But those wages are no less real. They may sprout as does the grain, strengthen as does the wine, nourish as does the oil. How much we receive, what we do with our wages, depends entirely on our Masonic work.
A brother obtains from his lodge and from his Order only what he puts into it. Our ancient brethren were paid for physical labors. More on Corn, Wine and Oil. The Covering of a Lodge is no less than the clouded canopy or star-decked heaven where all good Masons hope at last to arrive by aid of that theological ladder which Jacob, in his vision, saw, reaching from earth to heaven, three principal rounds of which are denominated Faith , Hope and Charity , which admonish us to have faith in God, hope of immortality and charity for all mankind. The greatest of these is Charity; for Faith may be lost in sight, Hope ends in fruition, but Charity extends beyond the grave, through the boundless realms of eternity.
Read more on Faith in Freemasonry. But, as Free and Accepted Masons, are taught to make use of it for more noble and glorious purpose of divesting their hearts and consciences of all the vices and superfluities of life; thereby fitting their minds as living stones for that spiritual building, that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. The principal use of Globes in Freemasonry, besides serving as maps to distinguish the outward parts of the earth and the situation of the fixed stars, is to illustrate and explain the phenomena arising from the annual revolution of the earth around the sun and its diurnal rotation upon its own axis.
They are valuable instruments for improving the mind and giving it the most distinct idea of any problem or proposition, as well as for enabling it to solve the same. Contemplating these bodies, Freemasons are inspired with a due reverence for the Deity and His works and are induced to encourage the studies of astronomy, geography, navigation, and the arts dependent upon them, by which society has been so much benefited.
More on the GAotU. What is the Great Work?