Some Further Notes on Craft Symbolism
W.Bro. R. A. L. Harland, P.M., Lodge No. 1679, President of the Circle.
"As a Craftsman,in our private assemblies you may offer your sentiments and opinions on such subjects as are regularly introduced in the Lecture, under the superintendence of an experienced Master, who will guard the Landmarks against encroachment." (Charge after Passing).
In the two previous Papers of this series ("SOME PRELIMINARY NOTES ON CRAFT SYMBOLISM" and "SOME NOTES ON CRAFT SYMBOLISM"), an outline of the scientific or philosophic aspect of the Craft system is sketched for the guidance of students. The further Notes now prepared will deal with a few of our chief and most familiar symbols, the deep and extended interpretation of which is not fully disclosed in the official teaching. These are symbols to which every Brother is introduced at the outset of his Masonic career; he is purposely told little about them, and only sufficient is said in the Lodge to arrest his attention and set him off thinking and searching. Indeed, the approved Ritual instruction is intentionally meagre and superficial; it is, so to speak, a shell, but it hides valuable kernels within. If, then, we content ourselves with the shell, and with the practice of merely memorising and repeating the letter of the Ritual and Lectures, we shall know next to nothing of actual Masonic doctrine.
We are sometimes asked: Why use symbols at all? Why cannot Masonic doctrine be imparted in simple, clear, verbal statement? The answer is, of course, that Masonic science is by no means a simple subject, but one, like every other branch of scientific knowledge, to be acquired only by patient effort and persevering thought. Moreover, as those who compiled our system were well aware, Freemasonry is a science best taught by symbols for, among others, the following valid reasons:-
(a) Symbols are compendiums of many ideas in one, and accordingly express to the mind far more than can be conveyed by words.
(b) Symbols are enduring; like music, symbolism is a form of universal speech reaching minds of whatever race, language, or creed.
(c) The interpretation of symbols is a profitable mental exercise, and a great stimulus to reflective thought.
The science of which Freemasonry treats is the science of ourselves. We learn from the central legend of the Craft that we are in search of something in ourselves which, owing to a certain "heavy calamity," we have lost, but which, "when time and circumstances permit," it will be possible to regain "with the Centre." Our teaching recommends, therefore, the knowledge of ourselves as the "most interesting of all human studies," so that we may first truly comprehend in what respect we have sustained a loss, then understand what it is we hope to find, and finally take up the task of recovering "that which is lost." Over the portals of ancient temples there was inscribed the maxim "Man know thyself," and with precisely the same end in view symbols are provided for the single purpose of instructing our modern candidates in self-knowledge. From this standpoint we now proceed to interpret symbols prominent in our Lodges.today.
THE TWO PILLARS.
Standing impliedly at the threshold of every Lodge are two pillars, as they are said to have stood " in the porchway or entrance of King Solomon's Temple." We know from the full description given in the Lecture on the Tracing Board of the Second Degree that these are not ordinary architectural pillars; they are in fact ornamental columns, without any structural significance or use in practical building work. Their value is purely symbolic, and they are examples of emblematic imagery; firstly, of metaphysical principles; secondly, of ourselves in whom those metaphysical principles are reflected and embodied. The pillars are twin; traditionally one is black and the other white, thereby corresponding with the chequered flooring of the Lodge; one pillar is likewise associated with the left hand, and one with the right. Interpreted in the terminology of the sciences of metaphysics, the symbolism of the twin pillars proclaims that the ultimate substance of the Universe is a Unity which, in the manifested world, is observed by us as splitting up into a Duality; into such "pairs of opposites" as Spirit and Matter, positive and negative, male and female. Everything in Nature, including ourselves, has two sides; a spiritual and a physical side an active objective side and a passive subjective side a good side and a bad side.
Modern physics recognises that the visible world and everything it comprises is composed of positive and negative electrical forces in a state of balance; nothing would or could exist without these two forces; it is their union and equilibrium that holds things together and makes them "stand firm." Humanity divides into two sexes with opposite characteristics and functions. Electric light is the result of two currents of positive and negative energy conducted through separate wires until they meet and generate light by their union. This principle of dual-forces in balance, only comparatively recently acknowledged by modern science, has been known and acted upon by Initiates from the most ancient times, and the fact of it has always been proclaimed by two symbolic pillars; one representing the active, positive, centrifugal energy (called Boaz in the Craft system); the other representing the passive, negative, centripetal force (called Jachin in the Craft system). In our Ritual (following the marginal interpretation given in the Bible) Boaz is defined as "in strength;" the modern, and more expressive, term would be "force," signifying primordial dynamic electrical energy, of which lightning-fire is an example. The full meaning of the word Boaz, from the ancient Hebrew, is "fiery energy in a state of intense activity"; whilst Jachin, which we explain to mean "to establish," denotes passive or static force, signified by "inertia," the resistance necessary to check the positive force and "establish" it in objective concrete form and "stability."
In the Lodge itself these two aspects of metaphysical force or energy are further exemplified by the pillars (described as "columns") being exhibited on the Wardens' pedestals, where they are placed in opposite positions. One of them stands erect, while the other lies horizontal; their polarity changes depending upon whether the Lodge is at labour ("active") or "called off" at refreshment ("passive"). We are intended to apply this symbolism to ourselves, for like the columns on the pedestals we are beings with opposite aspects. We have an outward and active nature, and an inward and passive nature. Our physical body reveals a similar dualism ; every organ in our body is duplicated; two limbs, two eyes, two ears, two lungs; two brains (the cerebellum and cerebrum), one positive by which we act consciously and voluntarily, and the other negative which is unconscious and controls the involuntary sympathetic system. The purpose of the symbolic columns is to emphasise the dualism of our constitution, and likewise to inculcate the necessity of bringing the two opposite sides of our unstable natures into equilibrium. We should observe that the columns are not in evidence on the Master's pedestal; this is because the Master is deemed to transcend the Wardens, thereby combining their united forces in himself. It is instructive to reflect that were the pillars shown on the Master's pedestal, they would have to be exhibited in their combined form of the Cross (the plus symbol). As a matter of fact, this symbol is actually displayed upon the person of the Master in the LEVEL (properly the TAU, the Hebrew form of the Cross) of the Apron which he wears as an Installed Master; hence "PER SIGNUM TAU," the ancient formula.
We would next briefly refer to the great antiquity of the symbolism of twin pillars. In ancient Greece we find that Homer mentions them in the ILIAD (XXIV 527), as two vessels, or jars, standing at the gate of heaven, one filled with good and one with evil, a blend of which is poured into each man's life at birth. The old Chinese philosophy describes them as the YIN and the YANG; and ages ago in Egypt there was held twice in every year the Festival called the "setting up of the Pillars." Finally, we have the ancient Zodiacal sign of GEMINI, traditionally known as "The house of the Twins." Originally this house was symbolised by two kids, for which the Greeks substituted twin children, the sons of Jupiter, represented by two bright stars Castor and Pollux. Gemini is also symbolised by two pillars joined at the top and base, which is a diagrammatic representation of the twins seated side by side with embracing arms. In mythology these "sons of the All-Father" were designated as the "Great Twin Brethren"; one of them was mortal, the other immortal. On the death of the mortal, it is related, he became united to his Brother and the two were translated to heaven; in sign whereof the constellation of the Twins has since shone in the night sky, where these "two witnesses" testify prophetically to the redemption of the body of man, his reunion with "the companion of his former toils" (his own higher-self), and the salvation and immortality of both.
From the Lecture on the Tracing Board of the Second Degree we learn that the symbolic pillars are both alike in form, as follows:-
1. Square base, or cubical pediment, resting on the ground.
2. Rising out of the base is a shaft, or column, resembling the trunk of a tree.
3. At the top of the column there is a capital, or chapiter, garnished with flowers and fruit, and surmounted by a circle, or globe, over which is thrown a veil or net-work.
In the description of these two pillars we are invited to see an image of ourselves, and their interpretation as symbols is the Craft method of providing, at the very entrance to the Lodge, our first lesson in the science of self-knowledge. This lesson is likewise threefold :-
1. The square base is a figure of our normal personality; the bodily man, sprung from, and resting upon, the earth.
2. Within the earthly square of our mortal person dwells an energy, or Life-force, called the soul. This is denoted by the ascending shaft of the pillar. Like a tree trunk springing from the soil in which it is rooted, and from which it draws nourishment, so the human soul grows upwards out of the personal patch of Mother-Earth forming the physical body, and is developed by earthly experience, ever building something new into itself by daily activities of thought, conduct and aspiration. And as the sap, or life-force, of a tree ultimately breaks into leaf, flower and fruit, so here at the capital of the pillar, the energies of the soul are shown as manifesting in analogous results (the graces and fruits of the spirit), and finally shaping themselves into a circle, or rounded whole.
3. The highest part of ourselves, our spiritual summit, is always beyond the sight of the eye and the ken of the mind. This is why, in the pillar, it is exhibited covered with a veil, or network. We see not what we build into ourselves from day to day, but as the pillar indicates, the essence of our bodily activities is conserved and comes to bloom in our superphysical part. Note especially in this pillar imagery the contrast between the base, which is a square, or cube, and the summit, which is a circle, or globe. The square is the ancient geometrical symbol for what has physical form, whereas the circle is the traditional symbol of what is spiritual and formless. In the old Chinese cosmogonies we find the adage: "Heaven is round; earth is square." The veiled globe, or circle, at the top of the pillar, therefore, is an emblem of man's spiritual pole; it is the sphere into which the seeds, or essence, of his bodily activities come to final fruition. These seeds are described emblematically by the many-seeded pomegranate fruit with which the chapiter is surrounded, whilst the globe itself is otherwise spoken of as the "golden bowl." In the poem, " The Testament of Beauty," our Masonic chapiter is referred to as :-
"The full circle where the spirit of man, Escaping from the bondage of physical law, Re-entereth eternity."
which immediately calls to mind the admonition given to the Craftsman, " in all his pursuits to have eternity in view."
The derivation of the names of the two pillars has been widely discussed by scholars, but it is significant to note that in the Eleusinian Mysteries the name of the Sun God was "IACCHUS," while "BOHU" represented the Earth. The names have, of course, become transposed. In the Craft system the first pillar, surmounted by the celestial globe, is in charge of the Junior Warden, who marks the Sun at the Meridian. The second pillar, representing Earth, is surmounted by the terrestrial globe, and is in charge of the Senior Warden, who marks the Setting Sun. There is a sense in which the pillars themselves may be said to represent Heaven and Earth, and, remembering the theory of their Reconciliation, the meanings attributed to the "separate" pillars are barren of result while they remain isolated. In other words, "stability" can only be attained by the significance of the pillars when "conjoined," thus symbolising the consummation of the At-onement of God and Man.
The symbolic key figured in the Craft system alludes to the safe keeping of secrets. Accordingly, the First Section of the First Lecture leads up to the affirmation that Freemasonry contains secrets; and the catechetical instruction then proceeds, as follows:-
Q. Have Freemasons secrets? A. They have, many and invaluable ones.
Q. Where do they keep them? A. In their hearts.
Q. To whom do they reveal them? A. To Freemasons and to Freemasons only.
Q. How do they reveal them? A. By Sns., Ts., and particular Ws.
Q. As Freemasons, how do we hope to arrive at them? A. By the assistance of a key. Q. The position of that key? A. It hangs.
Q. Why is the preference given to hanging? A. It should always hang in a Brother's defence and never lie to his prejudice.
Q. What does it hang by? A. The thread of life, in the passage of utterance between Guttural and Pectoral.
Q. Why so nearly connected with the heart? A. That, being an index of the mind, it should utter nothing but what the heart truly dictates.
Q. It is a curious key, will you inform me of what metal it is composed?
A. Of no manner of metal; it is the tongue of good report
In many of the early Tracing Boards we also find that the key is prominently displayed, sometimes standing by itself, sometimes hanging from a cloud, and sometimes suspended from Jacob's ladder. What is the nature of the secrets to which the key refers? We are here concerned with what may be termed primarily the physiological aspect of the Craft teaching. The earnest Brother will soon discover that the real secrets of Freemasonry are not to be acquired from anything that can be ocularly or orally imparted to him in the Lodge, but arise from the gradual digestion of ideas and their proper coordination by his own mind. It is essential, therefore, that his mental energies should be carefully conserved. To make use of an electrical analogy, he must become in effect an "accumulator," receiving impressions and allowing them to revolve within the closed circuit of his mind, where they will be marshalled and their final value extracted. In the affairs of the popular world an appalling waste of energy occurs daily in the amount of idle gossip and needless discussion; the way of the inner life, however, as taught in the Lodge, leads by the "deep and still waters" of knowledge, and calls for strict silence and economy of speech. Silence generates the power needed for speaking with authority when the time for such speech comes; hence the admonition: "a time to keep silence, and a time to speak " (Ecclesiastes 3, verse 7). It is not generally recognised that peril attaches to premature and unwise speech no less than to more flagrant violations of secrecy; a peril pointed to in the penalty of the Obligation of the First Degree. This penalty, when we discern the spiritual intention behind the literal expression, implies that he who is unfaithful to his duty of silence and secrecy may, by frittering away energies which should be conserved, automatically render himself spiritually unvocal.
There is a further good reason for secrecy regarding the technique of spiritual development. It is always very dangerous to tamper with the mechanism of life ignorantly, and without full knowledge of what is involved; thus abuse of spiritual powers may entail both physical and mental damage. The dormant energies of the soul cannot be set in motion without inducing results of some kind; and here, as elsewhere, action and reaction are equal and opposite; if they do not act creatively and constructively, they react destructively and like a boomerang. This will explain why, in the cryptic language of the Lecture, it is said that the symbolic key "should always hang in a Brother's defence and never lie to his prejudice." The significance of the expression "the tongue of good report," which concludes the catechism, will become apparent when considered from the standpoint of an apocryphal story taken from Hebrew literature. It is related that Rabbi Gamaliel ordered his servant Tobi to bring him something good from the market, and he brought a tongue. At another time he told him to bring something bad, and he also returned with a tongue. "Why did you on each occasion fetch a tongue?" the Rabbi asked. "It is the source of good and evil," Tobi replied. "If it is good, there is nothing better; if it is bad, there is nothing worse." In this sense the key, Masonically interpreted, is the symbol of safety; a wise old counsel says :-
Word is thrall, but Thought makes free Hold thy speech, I counsel thee."
We are also reminded of the final admonition when the Lodge is closed: "Nothing now remains, but according to ancient custom, to lock up our secrets in the safe and sacred repository of our hearts."
We are all familiar with the fact that the symbolic key again appears in the form of the jewel worn by the Treasurer, although the connection with the Craft doctrine is today not generally recognised. Actually, however, the key is the emblem appropriate to the Office of Treasurer, and is directly associated with the catechetical instruction. It is written: "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6, verse 21). The place of the Treasurer, therefore, is traditionally on the heart-side of the body of the Lodge, and his function, like that of the heart, is to receive, conserve, and distribute for the well-being of the whole body. Ostensibly, the Treasurer is an Officer chosen by the members to administer the material wealth of the Lodge, but his work also symbolises the teaching of the Craft that, whilst we are engaged in discharging the duties of temporal necessity, we are otherwise called upon to turn our hearts from the lures of worldly treasure and concern ourselves rather with spiritual riches. This higher service is signified by the Master confirming the choice of the Brethren and investing the Treasurer with the Collar of Office from which, thereby illustrating the verbal instruction given in the Lecture, is seen to "hang" the symbolic key. The same key, we learn from the catechism, which locks the heart to the treasure of the world without, opens it to the knowledge of the riches of the kingdom within; hence the scriptural admonition: "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life " (Proverbs 4, verse 23).
"That excellent key a Freemasons tongue which should always speak well of a Brother, absent or present, but when that cannot be done with honour and propriety, let us adopt that excellent virtue of the Craft, silence." (First Lecture, First Section).
These steps are illustrated in the Lodge by taking certain literal steps with the feet; steps which have no value in themselves, but which are invested with symbolic significance. What is a step? It is a progressive action, and may be described as a forward movement towards some objective or ideal; each time we take one of our symbolic steps we would do well to remind ourselves that it has a special meaning. We ought, indeed, to know both why and how the step should be taken; the Masonic step is quite distinctive, and very different from an ordinary step. The step, when given correctly, consists of dual movements; one involving motion forwards (in a "bee line"), the other a "check" or arrest of that motion. The first movement is positive, the second negative; they correspond with the twin pillars, and are in exact conformity with the positions of the columns on the Wardens' pedestals; one is vertical, the other is horizontal. The . . . foot moves first ("step off with the . . . foot"), and is pointed straight forward; the other foot is then placed in the prescribed position. Traditionally, the . . . foot is associated with the heart (or intuition), which always impels prompt action direct towards the goal; hence the propriety of the "bee-line" direction forward instead of the oblique taken in the normal walking step. The other foot, on the contrary, is associated with the head (or conscious rational mind), which often has to act as a brake upon the ardent impulses of the heart, otherwise we may "rashly attempt to rush forward." This will explain why the other foot, when correctly placed in position, forms a deadlock; movement forward is impossible until both feet have been released. Observe also another significant fact about the ceremonial step; due to the strain imposed upon the leg muscles slight pain, together with an acute sense of "lameness," is felt in the other leg; indeed, the other leg actually feels shorter because of the eversion (turning outwards) of that foot.
The sense of "lameness" induced by the posture assumed on taking the step has a definite purpose in Craft symbolism. We find on investigation that throughout the ages there has been a consistent tradition of "lameness" in connection with religious and philosophical systems. Our remote ancestors had, it transpires, a god called PTAH by the Egyptians, HEPHAISTOS by the Greeks, and VULCAN by the Romans, who was known as the "lame god." Figures of this god depict him with one leg shorter than the other, standing in the position of our Masonic step. The Egyptologist, Sir E. W. Budge, writes of him, as follows:-
"The texts of all periods make it plain that he was the chief god of all handicraftsmen and of all workers in metal and stone. At a very early period he was identified with one of the primeval gods who came into being in the earliest time, 'the father of fathers, power of powers, father of beginnings'; he was the great artificer in metals, at once smelter, caster and sculptor, as well as the master architect and designer of everything in the world." ("Gods of the ancient Egyptians")
In mythology the "lame god" is often spoken of as the "Blacksmith of the gods," who forged armour for them; and who taught humanity how to work, like himself, in metals. It is not very difficult to trace the devolution of this conception to that of TUBALCAIN (Hebrew variant of VULCAN), who reappears in our Masonic system as "the first artificer in metals," thereby identifying the modern Craftsman with the ancient tradition. What, then, is the truth lying behind the venerable myth?
According to Plato, voicing the teaching of the Mysteries ("The Republic," bk. VII), the soul is, so to speak severity "lamed" by the process of coming to birth in this world, and by confinement in the material body. The body is an obstruction to the free action of the spirit; yet that resistance and opposition are essential to the growth of the soul. Man, the Mysteries proclaim, is a divine being "crippled" by the limitations of the flesh; he has, it is affirmed, "fallen" from high estate and his destiny is to "return whence he came"; but in every age the effort demanded proves too much for the vast majority. We are assured, however, that man has never been left without guidance; there is a long line of "cunning workers in metals," great souls who have achieved the alchemical MAGNUM OPUS of transmuting their "base metals" into the "gold" of spirituality; and of these TUBALCAIN was the "first artificer — because "in the earliest times" he served as the exemplar for the "instruction of the brethren in the inferior degrees." The allusion is to a primeval epoch in evolution when our planet, and the life upon it, were condensing from ethereal conditions into solid physical form; human souls had to be trained by the guardians of the race to adjust themselves to the material embodiment in which henceforth they were required to work out their spiritual salvation. This reference to TUBALCAIN should not, therefore, be interpreted as relating to someone who first discovered metals and forged them into serviceable implements; indeed, "the import of the word" has deep significance. It remains to be said that the "metals" in which men were "first" taught to be "artificers" were not those now in general use; they were the elements of that corruptible physical matter of which the body of mortality is composed, and by which the soul originally was made captive. So with us in the Craft today, each may still think of himself as an "artificer in metals" in the sense that, whilst in the body, he is learning "to bring rude matter into due form." We are, as the ceremonial step is designed to illustrate, still "lamed" owing to our present restricted powers, but each may look forward to ultimate liberation from the "cramped" position; in the words of the Hebrew prophet: "Then shall the lame man leap as an hart" (Isaiah, chapter 35, verse 6).
The Apron is the Masonic symbol of the corporeal vesture and condition of the soul. This is an important symbol from the metaphysical aspect of our work, because neither in the natural nor the ultra-natural order is consciousness conceivable apart from a vehicle for it. The problem, however, that has engaged the scientific mind in regard to posthumous survival, namely how can consciousness exist without a body, never arises in the case of the Craft system as the teaching is implicit that it does not so exist, and that the subjective always possesses an objective side. Even of the uncreated Essence and formless Source of All Life this is held to be true; God is indeed Spirit, but the Universe, of which only a small fraction is sensuously perceptible, is still His vesture; and man, analogously, a spirit made in the Divine image, is never vestureless, although his vesture will needs vary with his state and place of advancement in the Cosmos for the time being. It follows, therefore, that the Freemason who seriously yields himself to the discipline of our system is not merely improving his character and chastening his thoughts and desires. He is, at the same time, consciously or unconsciously, building up an inner ethereal body which will form his clothing when his transitory outer body shall have passed away. That the soul becomes self-clothed as it advances is covertly intimated to the candidate in the three Degrees, and in order that the meaning and significance of the Apron marking his progress may be studied, we now summarise the salient features, as follows :-
1. The Apron is the symbol of the corporeal vesture of the soul. This does not refer so much to the temporal physical body, as to its permanent invisible corporeity which will survive the death of the mortal part. The physical matter of which our mortal bodies are composed is but corruptible impermanent stuff which merely forms a temporary encasement of the imperishable substance of our souls, and enables them to enter into sense-relations with the physical world. The distinction here made must be clearly grasped and kept in mind, because Freemasonry has to deal not so much with the transient outward body as with the eternal inward being of man, although the outward body is temporarily involved with the latter. It is the immortal soul of man which is the ruined temple and needs to be rebuilt upon the principles of spiritual science. Actually, the mortal body with its unruly wills and affections, stands in the way of that achievement, and it is therefore the "rubble" which has to be cleared away before the new foundations can be set and the new structure reared. Yet even rubble can be made to serve useful purposes, and be re-arranged and worked into the new erection; accordingly, man's outer temporal nature can be disciplined and utilised in the reconstruction of himself.
2. The investiture of the candidate with the Apron in each Degree by the Senior Warden as the Master's delegate for that purpose is meant to inculcate the truth that the soul fabricates its own body or "apron" by its own desires and thoughts; for the Senior Warden represents the soul which, in accordance with its own spirituality, automatically clothes itself with its own self-made vesture in a way that marks its own progress or regress. Mind moulds body; it can dominate and suffuse the animal tendencies of the flesh, or be smothered by them. The fleshly clothing, therefore, can become sublimated and transfigured by the wisdom, strength and beauty of the soul within, or, if that soul be itself impure and sensual, its defects will display themselves in the outward body.
For of the soul the body form doth take, For soul is form and doth the body make." (Edmund Spenser).
3. The unadorned white Apron of the First Degree indicates the purity of soul contemplated as being the eventual attainment of the aspirant on completing the work of that Degree.
4. The pale blue rosettes added to the Apron in the Second Degree indicate that progress is being made in the science of regeneration, and that the candidate's spirituality is beginning to develop. Blue, the colour of the sky, is traditionally associated with devotion to spiritual concerns.
5. In the Third Degree still further progress is denoted by increased blue adornments. Why are the borders and rosettes of the Apron blue? Blue is the "highest" colour in Nature, and at the summit of the spectrum of light. Moreover, when the visible Sun at the centre of our solar system shines through massed unclouded air, we see the heights as blue sky; and, in like manner, when the invisible Sun at the Centre of each of us shines through the purified personality, the mind is raised to the highest power and becomes illumined with the azure light of "the place of sapphires" (Job 28, 6). It should also be noted that in the First and Second Degrees no metal is allowed to appear upon the Apron. This is because as an Apprentice and Fellow the candidate is deemed to be engaged in the work of divesting himself of all "base metals," and, by an alchemical process, transmuting them into "silver and gold," emblems of spiritual riches. With Mastership, however, he attains an influx of those riches under the emblem of the tassels of silver. Silver, a colourless precious metal, is always associated with the soul; gold, the metal of supreme value and warm colour, is likewise associated with Spirit. The silver serpent fastening the Apron is the emblem of Divine Wisdom knitting the soul's new-made vesture together.
6. From the foregoing it follows that it is the personal soul of the candidate himself which is the "artificer in metals" referred to by the title of admission for the Third Degree. Desire for "worldly possessions," for sensation and experience in this outward world of good and evil, brought the soul into the world, and during the whole of its physical existence it has been engaged in trafficking with "metals," every desire and thought being an "artificer" adding something to or modifying its natural encasement. If, then, desire for physical experience and material things brought the soul into material conditions, the relinquishing of that desire is the first necessary step to ensure its return to the condition whence it emanated. The First and Second Degrees of our Craft system imply that the candidate has undergone a lengthy discipline in the renunciation of external things and the cultivation of desire for those that are within. But, notwithstanding that he has passed through the discipline of those Degree, he is represented at the end of them as being still in "worldly possessions" in the sense that a residue of attraction by them lingers in his heart. The ingrained defects and tendencies of the soul as the result of past habits and experiences are not easily eliminated. Hence it is that the candidate is entrusted with a title that designates himself at this stage, and which indicates also that some residue of the spirit of this world lingers in him which it is necessary to expunge from his nature before he can be raised to the "sublime degree of Master."
7. Finally, the pale blue and silver of the Master's Apron become intensified in the deep blue and gold ornamentation worn by the Provincial and Grand Lodge Officers, who in theory have evolved to still deeper spirituality and transmuted themselves from silver into fine gold. The symbolic clothing worn by Provincial and Grand Lodge Officers is the Masonic equivalent of the aureole, and its colour, deep blue heavily fringed with gold, is in correspondence with the deep blue centre and luminous circumference of flame: "His ministers are flames of fire." Provincial and Grand Lodge Officers are drawn from those who are Past Masters in the Craft; that is, from those who theoretically have attained Mastership and thus have become joined to the Grand Lodge Above, where they "shine as the stars for ever and ever."
It is written that no man may enter heaven without being clothed in a "wedding garment," the vesture qualifying him for union with the life celestial; and, in like manner, no Freemason may enter a Lodge without wearing the Apron that proclaims his fellowship with the Craft. We need not, however, restrict our thought and use of the Apron to wearing it in Lodge ; indeed, it is helpful to consider that we are clothed Masonically at all times, whether we are actually wearing the Apron or not. There are some Brethren who, loyal to the principles of the Craft during their lifetime, elect still to wear the Apron in the grave.
THE EAR OF CORN
In the Craft system the symbol of "an ear of corn" growing "near a fall of water" is of extreme importance. Corn is found prominently associated with the Ancient Mysteries where, as also in our Scriptures, it is always the emblem of the "seed," or principle of immortal being, sown by the Almighty in the soil of our mortal bodies, these constituting the "earth" given to each of us so to cultivate that what is planted in it may spring up into everlasting life. At Eleusis, the supreme degree of the Mysteries of Ceres (whence our word "cereal") was signified by the symbol of "an ear of corn"; and in the Egyptian system the candidate, holding "an ear of corn" which was fertilised by the sacred water of the Nile, declared "I am a germ of eternity," and at his death grains of corn were buried with him as emblems of immortality. By entrusting the Masonic candidate with "an ear of corn" symbol at a certain stage of his progress the Craft is perpetuating a practice of great antiquity deserving of prolonged reflection. With it may be read the scriptural passage which contains a direct allusion to the soul-growth of the righteous man: "And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season" (Psalm 1, 3). Note the proviso "in his season"; not immediately or instantly; the growth of spiritual consciousness is gradual, corresponding with our Craft three Degrees; "first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear" (Mark 4, 28). It is for this reason that many of the Psalms of David, which were the Temple hymns of the Hebrews, as the Orphic Hymns were those of the Greek Mysteries, are called "Songs of Degrees," marking the grades of "progress in the science."
Why, then, is corn used in preference to any other symbol of growth? Because traditionally corn is a "sacred plant." The source of corn has always puzzled botanists; it is not indigenous to this world; it is never found, like other cereals and seeded grasses, in a wild state, from which growth has been stimulated by intensive culture. This golden, graceful, prolific and needful plant, the ancient doctrine teaches, was a gift of "the Gods" who in the dawn of time transported it to our world from another planet, with the double purpose of providing the staple food of humanity and of giving man an emblem of the latest potentialities of his own soul. The tradition of antiquity is repeated by the Psalmist: "and had given them of the corn of heaven. Man did eat angels' food" (Psalm 78, 24-25). So, too, with the human soul. Like the corn, it is not indigenous to this time-world but is a native of eternity, whence it has become transported and sown as bare grain in the individualised patch of earth constituting the human body. There, like a seed of natural corn, it is subjected to the opposing forces of Nature; to the painful process of disintegration; dying and rising again, multiplied exceedingly as the result of the experience. Once again the Psalmist confirms the ancient doctrine: "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him " (Psalm 126, 6). Even our old English ballad of "John Barleycorn," the "hero bold," still perpetuates in popular parable the mystery of the immortal principle in man which, however often cut down and threshed, will aye spring up again."
At the Consecration of every Masonic Lodge, "grains of corn are scattered to the four quarters of space next, the Tracing Board of the Second Degree displays a stalk of "growing" corn, with which candidates for the Degree are identified; finally, the "full corn in the ear" is exhibited in gold embroidery on the dress collars of Grand Lodge Officers, signifying thereby that what had once been sown in them as "bare grain" has at last ripened to prolific fruitage. When, in Founding a Lodge, the Consecrating Officer scatters corn, he is performing a profoundly sacramental act; he is, indeed, emulating in miniature the work of the Great Sower of the Universe, who continually goes forth sowing souls in space, like grain, which fall into natural bodies that they may be raised therefrom as spiritual bodies. We can now perceive why, in connection with the symbol of "an ear of corn," we use the term "plenty"; this expression is the equivalent of the Greek "pleroma." and means "fullness" or "abundance." It alludes to the concentrated spiritual powers within that minute individualisation of the Divine Substance sown in us as "seed," which are capable of liberation and active function when we furnish the conditions necessary for their emergence and growth. What better counsel, then, can be offered to the aspirant for higher knowledge than to instruct him, as we do at the threshold of the Second Degree, concerning the potentialities of his own nature; he can think of himself as a growing ear of wheat destined to ripen in due time into abundant corn that will sustain not only himself but, haply, serve as bread of life to others.
"THE THREE ENTRANCES OF THE TEMPLE"
Exoterically, the reference in the Ritual is to the three main entrances of King Solomon's Temple, which figure in the Craft central legend. We are, however, expected to read behind the allegory, which conceals an allusion to the make-up of the human personality. Why, then, has the symbolic Temple of the Craft system three principal entrances? And in what sense are they deemed to be present in the person of each of us? The answer to these questions involves the study of certain facts relating to the evolution of our racial consciousness. Does not the Ritual itself assert that before "the secrets of nature and the principles of intellectual truth" can be "unveiled to your view" you must be "led, in the Second Degree, to contemplate the intellectual faculties," and "to trace them in their development?" So few Brethren ever do "contemplate," or even give a thought to considering how they have become intellectual beings at all; yet the understanding of this subject is an integral part of our Masonic education.
Man consists, we are taught, of an enduring soul manifesting in a transient body. During the period of earthly life the soul suffuses the entire body; but there are "points" (or regions of the body) at which the union of soul and body is specially intimate, and where it is evidenced by well-defined physiological mechanism (or major nerve-centres). These "points" are known as the "points of entrance," where the soul most deeply enters the body and finds anchorage; in other words, they are "entrances of the temple" (and also serve as exits from it). Spiritual science affirms that the three main entrances, or "points of entrance," in the temple of the body are located in the region of the navel, the heart and the head. This is also testified to in the penal signs of our three Degrees. Moreover, the "three entrances" have become built gradually in the course of racial evolution, and, as the Wheel of the Great Potter turned in the making of man, our race has undergone progressive changes of consciousness. Ages went to the shaping of "Homo animal"; animal man was but a sensual, mindless, emotionless creature living upon his sense-reactions; his main centre of consciousness was (as it still is with some animals) at a plexus in the region of his navel. Nutrition and reproduction were the ends of his existence; the sole purpose of his life being the satisfaction of merely animal functions; it was necessary that a strong and self-reproductive physical body should be built up as the preliminary to greater achievements. The cyclic Wheel of life turned, and there was evolved another centre of consciousness in the region of the heart; the emotional nature of man developed and became grafted upon his sensual nature. At this stage man was first actuated by passion, desire, and the aspirations and affections of the heart; he experienced the emotions of love and hate, and began to exercise choice and will. Once again the Wheel turned, and man became "Homo sapiens"; upon his sensual and emotional natures was now grafted the high faculty of mind; consciousness mounted to his head. Man was a self-conscious moral being; although his sensual and emotional centres still remained active in him their functions became subservient to the superior gifts of intelligence and reason. In the person of the average man today is summed up the entire past history of humanity. Man is destined to evolve to even higher modes of consciousness, but at present his consciousness is generated from the three regions of the body, the navel, the heart and the head, in conjunction with corresponding centres in the brain.
The facts of the evolution of our racial consciousness are thrice alluded to in the Craft system. Firstly, they are indicated by the penal signs of the three Degrees, as we have already mentioned. Secondly, they are allegorized by the three "entrances" of the Temple, out of each of which in turn the Master sought to retreat when attacked, as narrated in the Craft central legend. Thirdly, they are dramatically illustrated by the three "violent" blows on the head in the Third Degree, which are given at three different places upon the skull, namely on the three bones protecting those parts of the brain which relate to our unconscious, subconscious and foreconscious activities. We are thereby intended to recognise that we have been slowly "built up" to our present self-conscious status through abysmal ages. We are called upon to realise that our human status has been attained in the arena of fierce and relentless opposition from "ruffian" forces which, nevertheless, have served only to advance our growth; there is no growth in Nature except by opposition. Finally, we are led to perceive that each stage of our consciousness preludes the attainment of a higher, but that the higher is not possible until we have relinquished most of what has preceded it. Thus, animal man had to surrender the greater part of his sensuality when he became emotional man; speaking figuratively, we might say that he was struck a "violent blow" upon a posterior point of his head and, as it were, brought to the ground upon one knee. Similarly, emotional man had to sacrifice much in order to become "Homo sapiens"; he likewise was struck upon another posterior part of his head, and humiliated for the second time. What, then, of "Homo sapiens," the present man of intellect and moral sense? He too, we are taught, must die also if he is to transcend his present self; and the final "knock-out blow" upon the centre of the forehead (the region of the frontal brain and the foreconsciousness) signifies that if we are to become conscious "in the spirit" we must first die wholly to the consciousness of the flesh.
We read in the writings of the late Wor.Bro. A. E. Waite ("Steps to the Crown") the curious statement that "the tools which slew the Master were the three dimensions of space." This interpreted means in effect that our physical body constitutes itself the tomb of the spiritual consciousness; indeed, God Himself, the Grand Master, insofar as He is immanent in the world, lies, as it were, slain and buried in the world; and, therefore, in each of us, who are parts of the world. We are, each of us, a "grave" wherein the Master lies buried, awaiting resurrection in our personal "raising" of consciousness; and this entombment is sacramentally registered in our physical body by the closing up of the three cranial bones, and the consequent temporary inhibition of our spiritual awareness. It is for this reason that it is upon those three bones every member of the Craft when "representative of our Master" is ceremonially smitten. Truly great, therefore, is the mysterium of our foremost emblem of mortality, the skull; it was always taught in the Ancient Mysteries, and has become perpetuated in the modern Craft under veils of allegory which few Brethren can penetrate without proper instruction. The basis of this teaching is psychological, involving a study of our consciousness and organic interior development. It follows, then, that an Initiate "becomes"; he cannot be manufactured. He attains his rank as the result of inward growth; he cannot be "made" by any ceremony, external process, or learning; although, of course, these are meant to help him on his way. He is one who has outstripped his neighbours as far as they have outstripped the brute creation in the evolutionary scale; indeed, it is as impracticable for the uninitiated to understand the consciousness and capabilities of the Initiate as it is for the sheep to realise those of the shepherd who tends them.
"To him who did the Temple rear, Who lived and died within the Square, And now lies buried, none know where, Save we who Master Masons are." (Third Lecture, First Section).
This is the Masonic symbol of the cosmic scheme of involution and evolution. We are apt to regard the theory of evolution as a discovery of modern science, but it was well known to antiquity and was a feature of the teaching curriculum of the Mystery schools. The ancients, however, taught that there can be no evolution without previous involution ; to quote the scriptural formula: "no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven" (John 3, 13). Translated into Masonic imagery this great truth is represented by the simple symbol of a Ladder ("in scripture, called Jacob's ladder") resting on the Volume of the Sacred Law and mounting upwards. We may tabulate the teaching illustrated by the Ladder symbol, as follows :-
1. The two sides of the Ladder ("two grand parallel lines") are the equivalent of the two Pillars; they denote the dual basic principles of positive and negative power which run through all planes of the Universe and give it structural support
2. The transverse rungs ("staves or rounds") of the Ladder, connecting the two sides and harmonising the two opposed principles, signify ascending grades of life through the kingdoms of Nature, and the progressive conscious states emerging as the ascent proceeds. Each rung, therefore, represents the degree of evolution attained by a class of beings, or any individual being, ascending the ladder.
3. Between the rungs are gaps to be passed as the Ladder is climbed; these represent the phases of unmanifested life which alternate with our periods of active embodied existence. Birth and death; waking and sleeping; every creature oscillates between these two states of being, each of which is as essential to progress as the other; in brief, the gaps are just as important as the rungs.
4. The whole process rests upon the foundation of immutable Divine Law, and this is signified by the Ladder resting on the Sacred Volume representing that Law. All life has come down the Ladder (involution); all life must again ascend the same "narrow way," by the dual stages of objective and subjective experience, at each stage finding the gate to fuller life (evolution).
Such is the recondite symbolism of the Ladder in the Craft system. Where, then, does man today stand upon the cosmic Ladder? The answer is: Some way up from the foot, but still a long way from the summit. Below him lie the kingdoms of Nature through which he has already passed; elements of which he has incorporated into, and now conserves, in his organism. The mineral kingdom survives in his bones; the vegetable in his tissues; the animal in his appetites and brute instincts. Man is a microcosm; a synthesis of all below him. The long journey of man, in the terms of the Ladder symbolism, is given expression by the great Sufi sage, Jallalu'ddin Rumi, who writes :-
From the moment I came into the world of existence A ladder was placed before me that I might escape; I died as a mineral and became a plant ; I died as a plant and became an animal; I died as an animal and became a man; When did I ever grow less by dying? I shall die as a man to become an angel, I shall die from angelhood to enter the Ocean of Being I came from, If my body has aged, what matter? For the soul is eternally young."
Birth and death, to open vision, are seen to be dual aspects of a single process, the alternating swings of a pendulum. Masonically, they are the summons to "labour" and calling-off to "refreshment." We may observe in visible Nature four kingdoms, three subhuman, and the human; and, since it is unthinkable that the evolutionary urge stops and comes to a "cul de sac" in man, we visualise ahead of us a fifth kingdom. It is this kingdom, "the Kingdom of God," that the Craft invites us first to contemplate and then enter. We are to ascend the Ladder to the fifth kingdom by way of five steps; that is why five upward steps lead from the First to the Second Degree; that is why, in the Third Degree, we are exhorted to "lift our eyes" to a five-pointed star" whose rising brings peace and salvation to the faithful and obedient of the human race," following upon the dramatic exposition of the "five points of fellowship"; and that is why the number five recurs so prominently in our Masonic system. We may observe that all things in Nature shape towards a fifth kingdom, but we note also that every kingdom is self-contained; no leap from a lower to a higher kingdom is possible save on one condition; a previous "death" to the kingdom below. No biologist can trace the point where decaying rock gives way to the minute lichen springing from it; or the point where vegetable produce becomes animal tissue; nor where sensory tissues permit the miraculous birth of human intelligence. Indeed, not being a physical change, the transition is not physically capable of demonstration; it occurs on subjective levels, at the interval or gap between the rungs of our symbolic Ladder. We know, nevertheless, that the transmutation does occur; that a death of something precedes every new and higher begetting. So it is when a man aspires to pass from the human to the Initiate degree of life; a death is involved, the "death" signified by our Third Degree. We cannot claim expert knowledge of that which is heavily veiled; we can only add that it is a mystical dying that results in a man being "raised" to the Kingdom, and transforms him into a citizen thereof. "Thy Kingdom come" is the petition on behalf of those who would scale the Ladder to the summit.
May every Freemason attain the summit of his profession, where the just may rest assured they will meet their due reward." (First Lecture, Fourth Section).
SO MOTE IT BE.
"To heaven's high Architect all praise All gratitude be given, Who deign'd the human soul to raise, By secrets sprung from heaven."
(Anthem sung on the occasion of the laying of the Foundation stone of Freemasons' Hall, Great Queen Street, London, May Day A.D. 1775.)