SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol.III March, 1925 No.3

by: Unknown

The subject of Symbolism is a peculiarly difficult and  immense topic.  In the usual amount of space devoted to our  lectures it is impossible to more than touch upon a very few  general points.  Many books, articles, lectures and even the  ritual of the lodge itself contain a very large and comprehensive  instruction on the symbols and emblems of Freemasonry.  The  presentation here, therefore, can only be an attempt to interest  you in a further study of the theme.  Freemasonry has been defined as a beautiful system of  morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.  The  first three degrees of our system are called symbolic degrees,  wherein both by symbols and lectures; and allegories, the  Freemason is admonished to study and acquire learning, and is  actually taught a complete system of organized knowledge.

The word "Symbol" is derived from the Greek, meaning "To  Compare." 

A symbol is the expression of an idea by comparison.  Symbolism is the science of symbols, or signs; the art of  representing abstract truths and ideas by concrete things.  An allegory is a story told to illustrate or convey some  truth.  Some of the most important truths have been handed down  to us through allegories, that being one of the favorite methods  the Master used to convey His teachings.  It is one of the  peculiarities of an allegory that its message may not be  understood by all men.  One must be prepared within his own mind  and heart to receive the truth or else he sees it not.  It is  only a few of all those who hear, who perceives the lesson  designed to be taught by the allegory.  The great majority,  having ears to hear, hear not; having eyes to see, see not the  beautiful lesson, but hear only a pretty story that interests  them for a short while and then is lost.  But the earnest seeker  for truth, he who is duly and truly prepared for its reception,  sees beyond the veil of the allegory and perceives the beautiful,  simple truth which it conceals from the multitude but reveals to  the chosen few.

The origin of the symbol is Divinity itself, for when at the beginning of recorded time, Jehovah made a covenant with man,  promising that never again would He send the waters to cover the face of the earth and destroy all flesh, He set the first symbol  the multi-hued arch of the rainbow - in the clouds as an emblem  of security and an assurance to all future generations of His  watchful care. 

Symbolical instruction is recommended by the constant and  uniform usage of antiquity; and it has retained its influence  throughout all ages, as a system of mysterious communication. 

Christ taught by symbols and parables.  The mysterious knowledge  of the Druids was embodied in signs and symbols.  The Mysteries  were a series of symbols; and what was spoken there consisted  wholly of accessory explanations of the act or image; sacred  allegories explanatory of established symbols.

The picturesque and variegated maze of the early symbolism  of the human race we cannot study in detail, tempting as it is. 

Indeed, so luxuriant was that old picture language that we may  easily miss our way and get lost in the labyrinth, unless we keep  to the right path.  First of all, let us keep ever in mind, a  very simple and obvious fact, although not less wonderful because  it is obvious.  Socrates made the discovery - perhaps the  greatest ever made - that human nature is universal.  Whether we  study the earliest groupings of the human mind, or set the  teachings of the sages side by side, we find, after comparison,  that the final conclusions of the wisest minds as to the meaning  of life and the world are harmonious, if not identical. 

Thus we begin to understand why the same signs, symbols and  emblems were used by all peoples to express their earliest  aspirations and thoughts.  We need not infer that one people  learned them from another, or that there existed a mystic,  universal Order which had them in keeping.  They simply betray  the unity of the human mind, and show how and why, at the same stage and culture, races far removed from each other came to the  same conclusions and used much the same symbols to body forth  their thought.  Illustrations are innumerable of this unity both  of idea and of emblem, and also as confirming the insight of the great Greek, that, however shallow minds may differ, in the end all  seekers after truth follow a common path, comrades in one great  quest.

Symbols and symbolism are as old as man.  It is the  primeval, yet universal language of the world.  Symbols and  symbolism are not peculiar to any nation, peoples, secret  societies or brotherhoods; whether primitive, medieval or modern. 

Symbols and symbolism are not bound down by rules; hence a man  with a symbol can have the satisfaction that, as a free moral  agent, he can see in it, and through it, more things in Heaven  and earth than are dreamed by common mortals. 

When the savage began to emerge from his isolation and took  his first steps toward becoming a social creature, profiting by  association and cooperation with fellow human beings, one of the  first needs was a sign or symbol whereby he could distinguish,  during primitive battles, between creatures of his own tribe or  family and those of the enemy tribes.  A peculiar type of club, a  splotch of colored clay on the body of the warrior, and later  some rude device on his clumsy shield served for a time the  purpose of insignia.  Eventually these bits of wood, bodily  ornamentation and shield signs were replaced by the skins of  animals attached to poles so that they might be held high in the  air and recognized at a distance.  From such crude beginnings it  is easy to trace the evolution of the flags of civilized man.

Today these emblems of armies and navies have a deep and  noble significance far removed from their use in leading men to  battle.  In reality, flags are the symbols of idealism.

The first learning in the world consisted chiefly of symbols.  The wisdom of all the ancients that has come to our hand is symbolic.  It was the mode of the ancient philosophers to represent truth by certain symbols and hidden images.  These ancient symbols and allegories always had more than one  interpretation.  They always had a double meaning, and sometimes more than two, one serving as the envelope of the other.

The human mind speculates upon the great mysteries of Nature  and finds its ideas anticipated by the ancients, whose  profoundest thoughts are to be looked for, not in their  philosophies, but in their symbols, by which they endeavored to  express the great ideas that vainly struggled for utterance in  words, as they viewed the great circles of phenomena - Birth,  Life, Death and New Life out of Death - to them the greatest of  mysteries.  Remember, while you study their symbols, that they  had a profounder sense of these wonders than we have.

To them the transformation of the worm to the butterfly were  a greater wonder than the stars; and hence the poor, dumb  scarabs, or beetle, was sacred to them.  Thus their faiths are  condensed into symbols or expanded into allegories, which they  understood, but were not always able to explain in language; for  there are thoughts and ideas which no language ever spoken by man  has words to express.  The Zodiac was known in India and Egypt for incalculable  ages.  Ancient temples were often marked with a carved zodiac, by  which the date of the building could be determined by reckoning  the difference between the position of the signs of the zodiac as  depicted somewhere in the temple, often in the ceiling, and their  actual position in the Heavens, at any given time of observation.  We moderns use a cornerstone for the same purpose.

The wise men of ancient time, who knew the secret wisdom  religion, monumented in the stupendous conception of the zodiac,  which was a pictorial design for the common people, the ideas  comprehended under the term "Evolution," to which they were able  to give a much wider interpretation than modern science has yet  been willing to accord to the wisdom of the ancients.  Originally  only ten of the signs were of a meaning generally known to the  uninitiated public; two were secret.

The two most famous divisions of the Heavens, by seven,  which is that of the planets, and by twelve, which is that of the  zodiacal signs, are found on the religious monuments of all  people of the ancient world.  In many other ways the system of  numbers was closely connected with ancient forms of worship, and  has come down to us in Freemasonry; though the secret meaning  with which the numbers used by us are filled, is unknown to the  vast majority of those who use them.

The three scared numbers; three, five and seven, consecrated  in Freemasonry, always appear together in the stars of the  Heavens; in the three "Kings of Orio," near the five stars of the  Hyades, and close by the seven of the Pleiades.  The veneration  paid to these numbers had its source in the stars, where the  ancient astronomers saw all the symbols of Freemasonry.

A language of hieroglyphics was adapted to the celebrations  of the Sacred Mysteries of ancient Egypt, unknown to any but  those who had received the Highest Degree.  And to them  ultimately were confined the learning, the morality and the  political power of every people among which the mysteries were  practiced.  So effectually was the knowledge of the hieroglyphics  of the highest degrees hidden from all but a favored few, that in  process of the time their meaning was entirely lost, and none  could interpret them.

In this long ago, before the age of books, man also  expressed himself in architecture through the use of various  symbols; such as the Swastika of the Chaldees, the Triangle of  the Egyptians, the Triple Tau of the Herbews, the Cross of the  Christians, the Square, Compasses, Plumb, Level and Circle of the  Architects; blood brothers of the Accepted Masons.

The knowledge now imparted by books and letters was of old  conveyed by symbols; and the priests invented or perpetuated a  display of rites and exhibitions which were not only more  attractive to the eye than words, but often more suggestive and  richer with meaning to the mind.

Freemasonry, successor of the Mysteries, still follows the  ancient manner of teachings.  Her ceremonies are like the ancient  mystic shows - not the reading of an essay, but the opening of a  problem requiring research and explanation.  Her symbols are the  instructions she gives.  The Lectures are endeavors, often  partial and one-sided, to interpret these symbols.  He who would  become an accomplished Freemason must not be content merely to  hear, to even to understand the lectures; he must, aided by them  and having as it were, the way marked out for him; study,  interpret and develop these symbols for himself.

The more important Masonic symbols are very ancient, and  their true meanings can only be found by tracing them back into  the past.  This will be found to be particularly the case with the  Third degree; its true meaning can only be realized by the study  of similar rites which appear to go far back into the history of  our race.

When the great obelisk called Cleopatra's Needle was lifted  from its resting place in Alexandria, Egypt, for the purpose of  moving it to the United States; many Masonic symbols were found. 

These included a rough ashlar, a perfect ashlar, a square, a  trowel, a plummet and a white stone.  When the Obelisk was placed  in position in Central park, New York City, where it now stands,  the emblems were replaced exactly as they had been found at  Alexandria.  In a brief lecture like this one it is hopeless to attempt  to deal at all adequately with such deficiencies as there may be  in our knowledge of the Masonic system to which we belong.  The  most we can hope to do is to offer a few hints or clues, which  those who do so desire, may develop for themselves in the privacy  of their own thoughts.

For, in the last resource no one can communicate the deeper  things in Freemasonry to another.  Every man must discover and  learn for himself; although, a friend or brother may be able to  conduct him a certain distance on the path of understanding.

We know that even the elementary and superficial secrets of  our Order must not be communicated to unqualified persons, and  the reason for this injunction is not so much because those  secrets have any special value, but because that silence is  intended to be symbolical of that which applies to the greater,  deeper secrets, some of which, for appropriate reasons, must not  be communicated, and some of which, indeed, are not communicable  at all because they transcend the power of communication.

So my Brethren, Freemasonry teaches by allegory and symbol,  and it is your part to extract from them the truths that will be  of service to you in the building of an upright Masonic  character.  If you see only the stories that Freemasonry  presents, and do not perceive what they are designed to teach,  you are missing the best part of Freemasonry, yet you may comfort  yourself with the thought that by far the greater majority of  Freemasons are no wiser than yourself.

A single example of the symbolism of words will indicate to  you one branch of Masonic study.  We find at one point a certain  phrase "I will always hail, ever conceal, and never reveal," and  in the catechism, these: 

Q.  "I Hail,"

A.  "I conceal,"

and ignorance, misunderstanding the word "Hail," considers it as  "From whence do you Hail?"

But the word is really "hele" from the Anglo-Saxon verb  "helan," to cover, hide, or conceal.

Wherefore to "hele" means the same thing as "Tile" - itself  symbolic, as meaning primarily to cover a house with tiles.  Thus  language itself is symbolism, and words are as much misunderstood  and misused as more material symbols are.

One of the greatest emblems of our Order is the Bible, which  is used among Freemasons as the symbol of the Will of God,  however it may be expressed.  And therefore whatever, to any  people, expresses that Will may be used as a substitute for the  Bible in an American Masonic Lodge.  Thus in a body consisting  entirely of Jews the Old Testament alone may be placed upon the  Altar; and Turkish Freemasons may make use of the Koran.  Whether  it be the Gospels to the Christian, the Pentateuch to the  Israelite, the Koran to the Muslim, or the Vedas to the  Brahman; it everywhere Masonically conveys the same idea - that  of symbolism of the Divine Will revealed to man.  The Square is a right angle, and belongs only to geometry -  earth-measurements - that trigonometry, which deals only with  planes and with the earth, which the ancients supposed to be a  plane.

The compass describes circles, and deals with spherical  trigonometry, the science of the spheres and heavens.  The square therefore is a symbol of what concerns the earth  and the body; the compass of what concerns the heavens and the  soul.  Upon the Altar you see these tools and you remember how they  were arranged in each degree.  For the Apprentice, the points of  the compass are beneath the square.  For the Fellowcraft, one is  above and one beneath.  For the Master, both are dominant and  have the rule, control and empire over the symbol of the earthly  and the material.  Thus, as the heavens are higher than the  earth, so should the spiritual in man rise above the material and  dominate all his thoughts and actions.

Our own bodies are but symbols of the Soul within, and as  each spirit has in it the more of heavenly light, so it is  reflected in a fairer body symbol.  Here we find ourselves in a  Holy place, as we stand before the Secret of the World, where  Being passes into Appearance.

The sun is the ancient symbol of the life-giving and  generative power of the Deity.

The Moon was the symbol of the passive capacity of nature to  produce - the female, of which the life-giving power was the  male.

The "Master of Life" was the supreme Deity, above both.  The "Master of Life," the Sun and Moon, are symbolized in  every Lodge by the Master and Wardens.

The Cross has been a sacred symbol from earliest antiquity..  It is found upon all the enduring monuments of the world; in  Egypt, Assyria, India, Persia and on the Buddhist Towers of  Ireland.  Pointing to the four quarters of the world it was the  symbol of universal Nature.

The Perfect Ashlar is a symbol of faith and permanency in  the Lodge.  Stone, the material of which it is made, was  considered of great importance in many of the ancient religions,  and in some was worshipped.

The Temple of Solomon presented a symbolic image of the  Universe; and resembled in its arrangements and furniture, all  the temples of the ancient nations that practiced the Mysteries.

The Cosmos is a beautiful flower without much fragrance.  Its eight petals are mostly pink and white.  In the heart of the  flower we find clustered pistils and five pointed stamens which  are its male and female reproductive organs.  The name of the  flower - Cosmos - is significant and signifies law, order,  harmony and truth combined within the Universe.

Thousands of year ago the spiritual leaders of the Chaldeans studied the Universe and symbolized their findings in hieroglyphics which are as full of meaning for us as they were to them.  Thus we find that long before the time of Moses they represented the name of Jehovah by the eight-pointed star -  because to them, as to us, He is ever the same.  Let us fix this symbol in our minds.  Take the calendar pad of any month in which the first day falls on any one of the first five days of the week  draw a line through 1, 9 and 17.  Do the same through 2,9 and  16; 3,8 and 15; and 8, 9 and 10.  The sum of each line is 27. 

The resulting eight-pointed figure is a mathematical  demonstration of the meaning of this age-old symbol of Jehovah;  for, take it in any direction, and we find that, like Him, it  represents, it is ever the same. 

The five-pointed star - point up - is a very ancient symbol  of man, and was used by the old sages to designate the absolute  sign of human intelligence.  It refers to the spiritual element  predominant in man, while the same figure with two points up  refers to the Goat of Mendes - or that the beast is in the  ascendant.

If we apply this symbolism to our Cosmos blossom we may draw  near to God as did those reverent and understanding men of old. 

The petals of the flower are in the exact form of the figure you  have drawn on your calendar pad, and in the heart of the flower  is the ancient symbol of man - "male and female created He them.  Square, triangle, cross, circle - oldest symbols of  humanity, all of them eloquent, each of them pointing beyond  itself, as symbols always do, while giving form to the invisible  truth which they invoke and seek to embody.  They are beautiful  if we have eyes to see, serving not merely as chance figures of  fancy, but as forms of reality as it revealed itself to the mind  of man.

Sometimes we find them united, the Square within  the  Circle, and within that the Triangle, and at the center the  Cross.  Earliest of emblems, as they show us hints and foregleams  of the highest faith and philosophy, betraying not only the unity  of the human mind but its kinship with the Eternal - the fact  which lies at the root of every religion, and is the basis of  each.

Freemasonry conceals its secrets from all except the Adept  and Sages, or the Elect, and uses false explanations and  misinterpretations of its symbols to mislead those who deserve  only to be misled; to conceal the truth from them , and to draw  them away from it.  Truth is not for those who are unworthy or  unable to receive it, or would pervert it.  So God Himself  incapacitates many men, by color-blindness, to distinguish  colors, and leads masses away from the highest Truth, giving them  the power to attain only so much of it as is profitable to them  to know. 

So Freemasonry jealously conceals its secrets, and  intentionally leads conceited interpreters astray.

Albert Pike, one of the deepest students of the symbols of  Freemasonry, has this to say of one of the well-known  hieroglyphics:

"To the circle enclosing the central point and itself traced  between two parallel lines, a figure purely Kabalisitc, have been  added the superimposed Bible, and reared on that the ladder with  three or nine rounds, a vapid interpretation then being given of  the whole so profoundly absurd as actually to excite admiration."

It may be asserted in the broadest terms that the Freemason  who knows nothing of our symbolism knows little of Freemasonry.  He may be able to repeat every line of the ritual without an  error, and yet, if he does not understand the meaning of the  ceremonies, the signs, the words, the emblems and the figures he  is a Masonic ignoramus.  It is distressing to notice how much  time and labor is spent in memorizing "the work" and how little  in ascertaining what it all means.  Thousands of Freemasons hear  the beautiful truths concealed in the symbolism of our ritual but  in the language of the Bible "They have eyes and they see not;  they have ears and they hear not."

In the ceremonies of making a Freemason, we do not attempt  to do more than to indicate the pathway to Masonic Knowledge, to  lay the foundation for the Masonic edifice; the brother must  pursue the journey or complete the structure for himself by  reading and reflection.  Our symbolism is as flexible as it is  suggestive, and may be interpreted in many ways by each  initiate or student according to his light, "Each sees what he  carries in his heart" we read in the Prologue of Faust.

The blossom in your hand - that grasspear nodding at your  feet - those mysterious trees which fling their posturing arms to  every wind that blows - all are symbolic of an unseen power.

That water lily yonder, which bends to see its reflected  image, the bee that dives into its chalice, the waves that lap  against the lily-fronds - these too point to an invisible  thinker.

The broad-bosomed sea with its lurking depths and myriad  life- forms, speaks eloquently of a Master Craftsman.  And that  purple mountain yonder holds Divine Revelation in its clasp of  snow.  Behold the scripture of stars - Mars, blinking redly in the  southern heavens - Jupiter, trailing like a silver scarab toward  the peaks which claimed the setting sun.  The Milky way, with its  sweep of fiery worlds - that shooting star - our glorious sun -  all creation points with an unerring finger to the stupendous  Mathematician concealed eternally behind the drapes of Nature.

Mouse and elephant, wren and eagle, minnow and whale -

MAN - 

all carry mutely, surely, a message couched in terms of universal  understanding.

God reveals himself today, as in the beginning, through the  visible universe around us - His only written word.  He speaks to  us today as in the far past, through the unchanging language of  Nature.  His diary is written in the gnawed-out hills, in the  Eternal Truths "which lie undiscovered around us."

The Trestleboard of Nature shows
A vast array of symbols rare,
While all her elements disclose
Unchanging truths designed with care,
Impressed more deeply in the heart
While craftsmen diligently strive
To gather from symbolic art
The truth that through its power survive.