Evolutionary Symbolism

W. Bro. Rev. J.R. Cleland, M.A., D.D., P.P.A.G. Chap.(Kent).

I have purposely chosen a title for this paper which can be read in two ways, and it can thus be said to cover two separate and distinct ideas. It is my intention, however, to deal with the fundamentals only of these two ideas, and I wish it to be clearly realised that a fall and comprehensive exposition is quite beyond the limits here imposed. The two ideas, then, may be briefly defined as follows:

(1) THE EVOLUTION OF SYMBOLISM: illustrating how various symbols and lines of symbolism have evolved from those expressing simple ideas to those used to shadow forth, or veil, the most complicated, abstract, and recondite conceptions.

(2) THE SYMBOLISM OF EVOLUTION: demonstrating that the facts of evolution, in its widest meaning, form the true basis upon which the whole edifice of symbolism has been built up, and hence furnish the toys to interpret all religious and philosophic systems.

Before proceeding further, I would draw attention to the fact that the average man today is neither ready to accept, nor capable of applying, the higher forms of symbolism. This being so; we must freely recognise the necessity for graduated teaching, and in this connection I cannot do better than quote at length from an Editorial which appeared in a recent number of the American Magazine "UBIQUE". The Editor sums up the position admirably in the following words:-

"... not all man are equal in development, however equal they are essentially as Children of the same God, and provision must therefore be made for the care of the less-evolved by the more-evolved, that all may develop to a full and equal stature. Whatever the new system for the New Age may be, it must be wise enough and inclusive enough to recognise that the primitive traits in human nature have an essential part to play in the evolution of the an individual, and it must provide for the due exercise of these traits and instincts under adequate control to protect the more evolved members of society from the ravages of the loss evolved. The Ancient Wisdom teaching recognises that there are two phases to the cycle of human evolution, which are styled "the path of outgoing" and "the path of return". In Christianity these are illustrated by our Lord's parable of the prodigal son. True "conversion" marks the dividing line between the two, in the long series of lives of any individual, when he ceases to work for personal self and begins to work for all; when he ceases to grasp and begins to give; when he begins to realise the first principle of the law of spiritual growth through love and sacrifice. But the idealists who first grasp the truth must not try to impose it upon those not ready for it, or great harm will be done. The savage must have his savagery, the competitor his competition, the grasper his opportunity to grasp and hold, else these will not find the falsity in these things and turn, of their own free will, to higher things".

In the light of the foregoing we can, at least, appreciate why it has always been found necessary to give but the highest teaching in forms in which it is "veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols." But, and more important, we also see clearly that instruction to beginners must include an outline of the method by which Spirit becomes involved in Matter, otherwise students will fail to comprehend the significance of the evolutionary cycle known as "the path of return". We in this Circle have touched upon this theme many times before, but nevertheless I feel that it is necessary to run rapidly over the main points again in order to present a complete introduction to the symbolism of the Wisdom teaching.

The first phase we have to consider is that spoken of as "the path of outgoing" or "the descent into matter", and the imagery of involution. Man, as a spiritual being, is the Monad - a Spark of the Divine - which descending through the planes of the Universe takes on coarser and coarser vestures and becomes more and more involved in, and limited by, environment until it loses touch with the "centre" of being. From the planes of Pure Spirit the Monad sweeps down through the planes of the testing of individuality, through ATMA, BUDDHI, MANAS; potential spirit, potential intuition, potential abstract mind - wherein the great potentialities of these planes, from which on "the path of return" the individualised man must build his ladder up which to climb to Heaven, are turned downwards in the search for experience. Down, and still down, it vivifies the higher mental level, the plane of concrete mind, the plane of desire, and finally through the Atomic, Sub-atomic, Superetheric, and Etheric levels of the physical plane, reaches the confines of what we call physical matter. Through the gaseous and liquid states, it passes and finds a temporary "abode of rest" in solid matter. This is the "Crystal Rest" of Ruskin, but it is a static rest only; and nothing static can ever satisfy permanently anything so inherently dynamic as a Spark of the Divine, filled, as it must always be by its very nature, with "Divine Discontent". So the "Prodigal" experiences the first stirrings of an impulse towards physical activity and begins the great fight for liberation from bondage with the glad cry, "I will arise and go to the Father" - RESURGAM - the whole great longing for return to the Father is summed up in this one Latin word; RESURGAM. One longs to dwell upon the struggle, the joys of conquests the sorrows of defeat; as, step by step the ladder is climbed, and the vision of the heights is felt rather than seen. But, I must not tarry - try to see the vision as John Bunyan saw it when he wrote "The Pilgrim's Progress" - not, however, in symbols borrowed from Bunyan, create your own symbolism. To help you do this is the chief object of my putting before you the more universal aspects of symbolism, that you may become accustomed to the use and interpretation of symbols, just as the operative mason must become accustomed to the use and feel of his tools before he can interpret the thoughts of the architect in the stone which lies under his hand.

The next phase, the first on "the path of return", the beginnings of Evolution; are diametrically opposed to the final stages of Involution. The stream must ascend through the same channel by which it has come down; and immediately it finds itself back in an environment of struggle against opposition, by mastering which, only can it reach the final dynamic rest, that rest which contains within itself the full potentiality of all motion in perfect balance and equilibrium. Upwards, then, the Life-wave fights its way. In the higher physical levels the beginnings of the herd instinct are initiated and the first momentous step is taken out of the mineral kingdom into the vegetable kingdom. Already, in the mineral kingdom, it has contacted beings of higher planes who have helped - and sometimes retarded - its evolution. On flows the life-stream, fighting its way upward against the descending stream and constantly gaining strength in the combat. In the vegetable kingdom the power of feeling and of expressing emotion gained in the mineral kingdom is developed and a modicum of mind is unfolded. The unfolding of mind continues in the animal kingdom where finality is reached when a portion of a group-soul finds itself able to break away. Then comes individualisation, and man becomes a living soul and ready to pass over into the ranks of Humanity. Having reached this stage man has become a seven-fold creature, possesses for the first time a causal body, and is a reincarnating ego. This seven fold creature can best be considered as two three-fold vehicles occupied by the real man, the Monad. The Monad viewed from below, as we normally view it, is an indivisible unity, and is in contact with dense matter through its two three-fold vehicles. It is that which St. Paul describes as Spirit in his three-fold division of man into Spirit, Soul and Body. The vehicle immediately occupied by the Monad is called the Individuality, and is otherwise referred to as the reincarnating ego. As we have no words in our English language which fully express the three divisions of the Individuality the Sanskrit terms ATMA-BUDDHI -MANAS are often used for purposes of classification. For, want, of better names, we may perhaps designate them Spiritual Body, Intuitional Body and Higher Mental Body; the last of these being the synthetic or abstract mind, the realm in which causes are set up - hence the name causal body - where wisdom, as distinct from knowledge and understanding, is gained and stored. The second of the three-fold vehicles is known as the Personality, and the first division of this is the concrete or analytical mind, wherein knowledge, as distinct from wisdom, is gained and temporarily stored. Not being part of the reincarnating ego, this vehicle cannot directly contact past lives, which will explain why it is that there is normally no memory of such, the memory being retained in the higher mind, contact with which must therefore be made in order to recall previous incarnations. The second division of the Personality is the Emotional or Desire Body, sometimes called the Astral, from the fact that it is self-luminous. And the third division is the Physical Body, with the lower part of which the average man is prone to identify himself. St. Paul, however, divides it into two and tells us that "there is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body" (1 Cor. XV.44); these are commonly known today as the physical body and the etheric double. Now, it is upon this seven-fold constitution of man that most of the symbols we are about to study are built up, but before going on to a consideration of the symbols individually, we must devote few moments to the subject of symbolism in general.

Symbols are usually divided into four main groups, which, however, have a habit of overlapping in all directions so that no definite dividing line can be drawn between any two groups. The four groups are:-


Examples of (1) may be seen in National, Tribal and cultural emblems; (2) the best examples are to be found in religious systems, with which we include Freemasonry; (3) are to be found in the various Sun cults; (4) are numerous in fertility cults. From the Masonic point of view Geometrical symbolism is the most important, and it will therefore be advisable to confine ourselves mainly to those which fall within this group. Let us, then, begin with the simplest geometrical concept, the Euclidian point, and see where it leads us. We are told that a point has neither length, breadth nor thickness; that it is without dimension and is merely a position in space. As such its existence becomes a fitting symbol of the Infinite which can only be described to the mind of man as NO-THING. To have recognisability as a "thing", or as having existence, there must be capability of definition in terms of dimensionality. This "No-thing" is outside dimensionality; it is the Absolute, the unmanifest; unlimited position or omnipresence, containing within itself all potentialities, yet manifesting none. If then, the Euclidean point be visualised as being, outside of all dimensions, it ceases to be static and radiates in all directions, the radiations turning upon themselves and seeking again the point as the centre of their being. Ultimately they form, as it were, a sphere, which only has existence so long as the dynamic, or unbalanced, state of the central point remains. The ancients, had many symbols by which to express this primary manifestation of the Absolute, notably the Daisy with its petals radiating from the centre yet always connected thereto, but the most common and universal form was: that also used to represent the Sun as the centre of the Life in our Universe, namely the Circle with a Point at its centre. And so we find our familiar Masonic symbol, "a point within a Circle," prominent in all ages as the symbol of the first manifestation of God - the Fatherhood. It is the emblem of what we in the West know as the First Person of the Trinity, the Masculine, positive, element of the Godhead, and of the divine attribute of TRANSMUTATION, sometimes ignorantly termed Destruction. I should mention at this juncture that students must bear in mind that in the Circle of Infinity the Centre is deemed to be "everywhere" and the Circumference "nowhere"; each Point on the Circumference is therefore always "with the Centre", a fact of great significance in the comprehension of Masonic doctrine. Moreover, it is only when man as a "Point" on the "Circumference" realises that the "Centre" is in truth everywhere and that his environment and his own self have no separate existence, that he can freely acknowledge that the "Centre" is indeed "a-Point" from which he "cannot err".

In the symbolism of cosmogony, as we have already noted, "a point within a circle" denotes the first manifestation; it is the "Heaven and Earth" of the First Day of Creation (Genesis, chapter 1), which two came out of the void and thus constitute the first existences, the first appearance that can be visualised as being outside of the static condition. From this stage onwards, differentiation continues step by step) and, the Wisdom teaching instructs us that there appear first of all those things which can be classed under the heading of the "Pairs of opposites". This gives us the key to the interpretation of the imagery of the Second Day of Creation; Night is divided from Day, Light is divided from Darkness, and God appears as Male-Female, Father-Mother, the perfect Androgyne. At this stage the symbol is the Circle divided by a horizontal Diameter, an emblem of the Second Person of the Trinity, and of the aspect of PRESERVATION which is essentially the dual aspect. In the further development of this symbol there is formed, by subdividing the upper semi-circle by a vertical radius, what is variously known as the Master's Cross" or "Master's Level" that peculiar form of the Tau Cross which in the Craft is the badge of Mastership. I have purposely alluded to this form of the Tau Cross as being peculiar", because it represents the crucifixion of Spirit upon the Cross of Spirit, a grade normally outside the range of human comprehension, and which is otherwise denominated the "Ascension". Continuing the series; by subdividing the lower semi-circle (leaving the upper intact) we obtain the symbol of spirit crucified upon the Cross of Matter the so-called Tau Cross. This is the true symbol of material manifestation and was recognised as such by the ancient Egyptians who, by adding to it a head and six legs (so combining it with the conception of man as a seven-fold organism), produced one of their most wonderful - and, later, most misunderstood - symbols, the Scarab on Scarabacus. That the Egyptians fully understood the archaic symbolism is shown in the construction of another of their emblems, the Ankh Cross, which illustrates that in the evolutionary trend of Life, Spirit must first rise triumphant over Matter, and then commence the process of drawing away. Students will no doubt be able to grasp the idea by recalling the characteristic loop which surmounts the Ankh Cross, from which the symbol derives its Latin name CHEA ANSATA, meaning the 'handled cross". This was, and still is, the recognised symbol of Resurrection, and thus comprehends the whole process of the arising of Spirit out of the bondage of Matter, or in other words, of Evolution. From the combination of the two Tau Crosses (in the upper and lower semi-circles of the Circle) is generated the symbol of Creation, and this is the emblem of the Third Person of the Trinity.

Following on from the spherical symbolism we have been studying there is another system based upon the triangles and if we join the ends of the equal-armed Cross (combination of the two Tau Crosses within the Circle) we construct a well known symbol the Diamond on the Cross - which may be said to link the two systems. With regard to triangular symbolism, the equilateral triangle standing upon its base has always been a symbol of Spirit and of Fire, representing the upward leaping flame. Its opposite, the same triangle balanced upon its apex, is the accepted symbol of Water. Now, if we represent the Monad or unity as a point, as in the former case, and place it above the apex of the Fire triangle, at the same time bringing the Water triangle under so that the triangles lie base to base, we have a complete symbol of the sevenfold Man while still undeveloped and in incarnation. The point then represents the "vital and immortal principle", that indivisible spark which is the Centre of all; the Fire triangle, represents the Individuality; and the Water triangle, the Personality. The triangles of the Individuality and Personality are, however, given a further significance in order to complete the seven-fold classification, and this is indicated in the following chart:-

left side SPIRIT
Right side INTUITION
Base Lower Mind
Right side Emotional Level
Left side Physical Body

It should be pointed out here that in Masonic symbolism the two triangles are exhibited by the familiar conjunction of the Square and Compasses. The square symbolises the Personality, its two arms representing the physical and emotional vehicles, while the Compasses signify the Individuality, the two legs representing Intuition and Spirit. Further, the enclosed diamond-shaped space denotes the Unified Mind; it is also the shape of the symbolic trowel blade, for the trowel is the instrument used to spread the cement by which the stones are joined together, even as the unified mentality joins the Personality and the Individuality. Another ancient symbol involving the use of two equilateral triangles is that which shows them linked apex to apex, and a typical example of this is the Roman numeral X, while we also find it depicted on many old Masonic Aprons under the veil of an Hour-Glass. The Craft conserves a further variant in the form of the Bee-Hive, which although now fallen into desuetude, will be found prominently displayed on old Tracing Boards, Aprons, and Firing Glasses. Most modern students are unaware that the Hive, or to be exact, the conical straw Skep, represents the Fire triangle, and that inside it is the down-hanging cone of the honey-comb denoting the enclosed Water triangle; very conspicuously and centrally placed also is the Point, usually shown as the door of the Hive. This symbol signifies the aspirations of man rising heavenward and being met by the down-pouring of the Divine power and blessing. The Egyptians exhibited the same symbol in the form of a stepped Pyramid with the figure of SHU standing thereon and upholding the heavens, and this is perpetuated in the symbolism of several of the Higher Degrees. Much more could be added by way of explanation of this triangular symbolism, but I am afraid that we must pass on to other considerations. Before, however, we do so I must direct your attention to the final stage in the linking of the two triangles, which is denoted by that widely used symbol familiarly known as the Interlaced Triangles. The design of this symbol is important as it marks the completed balance of Fire and Water, Spirit and Matter, Individuality and Personality, and it should therefore occasion no surprise when we learn that in our Craft system its use is restricted to the Supreme Degree, where it is appropriately exhibited as the basis of the Jewel worn by all Companions of the Order.

Yet another series of symbols is arrived at from the linking together of the Triangle and the Square. Here the Fire Triangle represents the Individuality, and the Square of Matter is the Personality, the Physical plane being further subdivided into Dense Physical and Etheric levels. The results which follow from this combination are of great interest to the student, and they may be said to culminate in the construction of that geometrical figure known as the regular Pentagon. This figure represents the five- fold man as a perfected vehicle for the Monad, and into it the Point descends to take charge. For purposes of further elucidation, we sometimes find inside the pentagon the figure of the perfect man depicted with head, hands, and feet occupying the five angles. The so-called Pentacle, Pentalpha or Five-pointed Star - the Spur Rowel of Heraldry - is the same basic symbol, perfected man standing with arms and legs outstretched, while when reversed it represents the animal-nature, and is then the Goat which every true Freemason must, learn to ride before he can proceed to attain his goal.

All of the symbols I have mentioned are to be found enclosed in a Circle, as for instance the six-pointed Star of the Royal Arch Jewel, which is the emblem of Eternity. When the Circle is formed by means of a Serpent depicted as swallowing its own tail, it is intended to convey the idea of the Infinite Wisdom embracing All within its folds. This same Serpent of Wisdom appears in another form in Freemasonry as the KNEPH, or fastening of the ribbon which supports the Apron, but unfortunately the majority of Brethren have no knowledge of its significance. It is also interesting to note that we have here a blending of Totemic and Geometrical symbolism, the object of which is to illustrate that knowledge must be sublimated into Wisdom. Actually it is this Serpent of Wisdom which is often found, in the same S-form, in symbolic pictures of the Brazen Serpent raised by Moses upon the Tau Cross in the Wilderness, and it signifies that those who raised their eyes to view it, as representing the basic, immovable Wisdom, would be saved and cured of the bites of the Fiery Serpents i.e., of the ever-changing unstable Knowledge.

I have now very briefly touched upon the main geometrical symbols which are of importance from the point of view of the study of Masonic symbolism. I do not propose to give any further illustrations in this Paper, because I feel that my purpose has been accomplished if I have given you the necessary clues to the method adopted. Once the underlying principles are comprehended by the student it will be found that all symbols fall naturally into place and boar out the fundamental teachings. The primordial process is that of EMANATION - ABSORPTION, the passage from the Absolute to Subjectivity, thence to maximum Objectivity, and back through Subjectivity to the Absolute. Issuing from the Unmanifested Godhead, Spirit pauses for a period in Heaven, descends to phenomenal Existence through planes of increasing density, and then ascends through planes of decreasing density to return ultimately to the Source from which it issued. The process is necessarily finite and although it is true that each Spark of Spirit can accelerate or delay the process in his own case, he can never prevent its final completion. Herein we have the underlying basis of free will and of predestination and, if we study the process in detail, we can easily prove for ourselves that both are authentic and both are essential. It has been truly declared that there is no element of chance in the Universe; the One Great Thinker is always substantially behind His thoughts, and however badly we may presume that things are going, we may rest assured that "all things work together for our good". I will conclude my remarks on the note of an Act of Faith in which the genuine tenets of Freemasonry are proclaimed:-

"We believe that God is Love, and Power, and Truth and Light; that Perfect Justice rules the World; that all His sons shall one day reach His Feet, however far they stray. We hold the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of man: We know that we serve Him best, when best we serve our brother man. So shall His Blessing rest upon us and Peace for evermore." AMEN.