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The Symbolism of Freemasonry: Illustrating and Explaining Its Science and Philosophy, its Legends, Myths and Symbols.

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The Symbolism of Freemasonry by Albert G. Mackey


Albert G. Mackey, M.D.,

“_Ea enim quae scribuntur tria habere decent, utilitatem praesentem, certum finem, inexpugnabile fundamentum._”



Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1869, by ALBERT G. MACKEY, In the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the District of South Carolina.

To General John C. Fremont.

My Dear Sir:

While any American might be proud of associating his name with that of one who has done so much to increase the renown of his country, and to enlarge the sum of human knowledge, this book is dedicated to you as a slight testimonial of regard for your personal character, and in grateful recollection of acts of friendship.

Yours very truly,

A. G. Mackey.


Of the various modes of communicating instruction to the uninformed, the masonic student is particularly interested in two; namely, the instruction by legends and that by symbols. It is to these two, almost exclusively, that he is indebted for all that he knows, and for all that he can know, of the philosophic system which is taught in the institution. All its mysteries and its dogmas, which constitute its philosophy, are intrusted for communication to the neophyte, sometimes to one, sometimes to the other of these two methods of instruction, and sometimes to both of them combined. The Freemason has no way of reaching any of the esoteric teachings of the Order except through the medium of a legend or a symbol.

A legend differs from an historical narrative only in this–that it is without documentary evidence of authenticity. It is the offspring solely of tradition. Its details may be true in part or in whole. There may be no internal evidence to the contrary, or there may be internal evidence that they are altogether false. But neither the possibility of truth in the one case, nor the certainty of falsehood in the other, can remove the traditional narrative from the class of legends. It is a legend simply because it rests on no written foundation. It is oral, and therefore legendary.

In grave problems of history, such as the establishment of empires, the discovery and settlement of countries, or the rise and fall of dynasties, the knowledge of the truth or falsity of the legendary narrative will be of importance, because the value of history is impaired by the imputation of doubt. But it is not so in Freemasonry. Here there need be no absolute question of the truth or falsity of the legend. The object of the masonic legends is not to establish historical facts, but to convey philosophical doctrines. They are a method by which esoteric instruction is communicated, and the student accepts them with reference to nothing else except their positive use and meaning as developing masonic dogmas. Take, for instance, the Hiramic legend of the third degree. Of what importance is it to the disciple of Masonry whether it be true or false? All that he wants to know is its internal signification; and when he learns that it is intended to illustrate the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, he is content with that interpretation, and he does not deem it necessary, except as a matter of curious or antiquarian inquiry, to investigate its historical accuracy, or to reconcile any of its apparent contradictions. So of the lost keystone; so of the second temple; so of the hidden ark: these are to him legendary narratives, which, like the casket, would be of no value were it not for the precious jewel contained within. Each of these legends is the expression of a philosophical idea.

But there is another method of masonic instruction, and that is by symbols. No science is more ancient than that of symbolism. At one time, nearly all the learning of the world was conveyed in symbols. And although modern philosophy now deals only in abstract propositions, Freemasonry still cleaves to the ancient method, and has preserved it in its primitive importance as a means of communicating knowledge.

According to the derivation of the word from the Greek, “to symbolize” signifies “to compare one thing with another.” Hence a symbol is the expression of an idea that has been derived from the comparison or contrast of some object with a moral conception or attribute. Thus we say that the plumb is a symbol of rectitude of conduct. The physical qualities of the plumb are here compared or contrasted with the moral conception of virtue, or rectitude. Then to the Speculative Mason it becomes, after he has been taught its symbolic meaning, the visible expression of the idea of moral uprightness.

But although there are these two modes of instruction in Freemasonry,–by legends and by symbols,–there really is no radical difference between the two methods. The symbol is a visible, and the legend an audible representation of some contrasted idea–of some moral conception produced from a comparison. Both the legend and the symbol relate to dogmas of a deep religious character; both of them convey moral sentiments in the same peculiar method, and both of them are designed by this method to illustrate the philosophy of Speculative Masonry.

To investigate the recondite meaning of these legends and symbols, and to elicit from them the moral and philosophical lessons which they were intended to teach, is to withdraw the veil with which ignorance and indifference seek to conceal the true philosophy of Freemasonry.

To study the symbolism of Masonry is the only way to investigate its philosophy. This is the portal of its temple, through which alone we can gain access to the sacellum where its aporrheta are concealed.

Its philosophy is engaged in the consideration of propositions relating to God and man, to the present and the future life. Its science is the symbolism by which these propositions are presented to the mind.

The work now offered to the public is an effort to develop and explain this philosophy and science. It will show that there are in Freemasonry the germs of profound speculation. If it does not interest the learned, it may instruct the ignorant. If so, I shall not regret the labor and research that have been bestowed upon its composition.


CHARLESTON, S.C., Feb. 22, 1869.


I. Preliminary.
II. The Noachidae.
III. The Primitive Freemasonry of Antiquity.
IV. The Spurious Freemasonry of Antiquity.
V. The Ancient Mysteries.
VI. The Dionysiac Artificers.
VII. The Union of Speculative and Operative Masonry at the Temple of Solomon.
VIII. The Travelling Freemasons of the Middle Ages.
IX. Disseverance of the Operative Element.
X. The System of Symbolic Instruction.
XI. The Speculative Science and the Operative Art.
XII. The Symbolism of Solomon’s Temple.
XIII. The Form of the Lodge.
XIV. The Officers of a Lodge.
XV. The Point within a Circle.
XVI. The Covering of the Lodge.
XVII. Ritualistic Symbolism.
XVIII. The Rite of Discalceation.
XIX. The Rite of Investiture.
XX. The Symbolism of the Gloves.
XXI. The Rite of Circumambulation.
XXII. The Rite of Intrusting, and the Symbolism of Light.
XXIII. Symbolism of the Corner-stone.
XXIV. The Ineffable Name.
XXV. The Legends of Freemasonry.
XXVI. The Legend of the Winding Stairs.
XXVII. The Legend of the Third Degree.
XXVIII. The Sprig of Acacia.
XXIX. The Symbolism of Labor.
XXX. The Stone of Foundation.
XXXI. The Lost Word.

Synoptical Index.



The Origin and Progress of Freemasonry.

Any inquiry into the symbolism and philosophy of Freemasonry must necessarily be preceded by a brief investigation of the origin and history of the institution. Ancient and universal as it is, whence did it arise? What were the accidents connected with its birth? From what kindred or similar association did it spring? Or was it original and autochthonic, independent, in its inception, of any external influences, and unconnected with any other institution? These are questions which an intelligent investigator will be disposed to propound in the very commencement of the inquiry; and they are questions which must be distinctly answered before he can be expected to comprehend its true character as a symbolic institution. He must know something of its antecedents, before he can appreciate its character.

But he who expects to arrive at a satisfactory solution of this inquiry must first–as a preliminary absolutely necessary to success–release himself from the influence of an error into which novices in Masonic philosophy are too apt to fall. He must not confound the doctrine of Freemasonry with its outward and extrinsic form. He must not suppose that certain usages and ceremonies, which exist at this day, but which, even now, are subject to extensive variations in different countries, constitute the sum and substance of Freemasonry. “Prudent antiquity,” says Lord Coke, “did for more solemnity and better memory and observation of that which is to be done, express substances under ceremonies.” But it must be always remembered that the ceremony is not the substance. It is but the outer garment which covers and perhaps adorns it, as clothing does the human figure. But divest man of that outward apparel, and you still have the microcosm, the wondrous creation, with all his nerves, and bones, and muscles, and, above all, with his brain, and thoughts, and feelings. And so take from Masonry these external ceremonies, and you still have remaining its philosophy and science. These have, of course, always continued the same, while the ceremonies have varied in different ages, and still vary in different countries.

The definition of Freemasonry that it is “a science of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols,” has been so often quoted, that, were it not for its beauty, it would become wearisome. But this definition contains the exact principle that has just been enunciated. Freemasonry is a science–a philosophy–a system of doctrines which is taught, in a manner peculiar to itself, by allegories and symbols. This is its internal character. Its ceremonies are external additions, which affect not its substance.

Now, when we are about to institute an inquiry into the origin of Freemasonry, it is of this peculiar system of philosophy that we are to inquire, and not of the ceremonies which have been foisted on it. If we pursue any other course we shall assuredly fall into error.

Thus, if we seek the origin and first beginning of the Masonic philosophy, we must go away back into the ages of remote antiquity, when we shall find this beginning in the bosom of kindred associations, where the same philosophy was maintained and taught. But if we confound the ceremonies of Masonry with the philosophy of Masonry, and seek the origin of the institution, moulded into outward form as it is to-day, we can scarcely be required to look farther back than the beginning of the eighteenth century, and, indeed, not quite so far. For many important modifications have been made in its rituals since that period.

Having, then, arrived at the conclusion that it is not the Masonic ritual, but the Masonic philosophy, whose origin we are to investigate, the next question naturally relates to the peculiar nature of that philosophy.

Now, then, I contend that the philosophy of Freemasonry is engaged in the contemplation of the divine and human character; of GOD as one eternal, self-existent being, in contradiction to the mythology of the ancient peoples, which was burdened with a multitude of gods and goddesses, of demigods and heroes; of MAN as an immortal being, preparing in the present life for an eternal future, in like contradiction to the ancient philosophy, which circumscribed the existence of man to the present life.

These two doctrines, then, of the unity of God and the immortality of the soul, constitute the philosophy of Freemasonry. When we wish to define it succinctly, we say that it is an ancient system of philosophy which teaches these two dogmas. And hence, if, amid the intellectual darkness and debasement of the old polytheistic religions, we find interspersed here and there, in all ages, certain institutions or associations which taught these truths, and that, in a particular way, allegorically and symbolically, then we have a right to say that such institutions or associations were the incunabula–the predecessors–of the Masonic institution as it now exists.

With these preliminary remarks the reader will be enabled to enter upon the consideration of that theory of the origin of Freemasonry which I advance in the following propositions:–

1. In the first place, I contend that in the very earliest ages of the world there were existent certain truths of vast importance to the welfare and happiness of humanity, which had been communicated,–no matter how, but,–most probably, by direct inspiration from God to man.

2. These truths principally consisted in the abstract propositions of the unity of God and the immortality of the soul. Of the truth of these two propositions there cannot be a reasonable doubt. The belief in these truths is a necessary consequence of that religious sentiment which has always formed an essential feature of human nature. Man is, emphatically, and in distinction from all other creatures, a religious animal. Gross commences his interesting work on “The Heathen Religion in its Popular and Symbolical Development” by the statement that “one of the most remarkable phenomena of the human race is the universal existence of religious ideas–a belief in something supernatural and divine, and a worship corresponding to it.” As nature had implanted the religious sentiment, the same nature must have directed it in a proper channel. The belief and the worship must at first have been as pure as the fountain whence they flowed, although, in subsequent times, and before the advent of Christian light, they may both have been corrupted by the influence of the priests and the poets over an ignorant and superstitious people. The first and second propositions of my theory refer only to that primeval period which was antecedent to these corruptions, of which I shall hereafter speak.

3. These truths of God and immortality were most probably handed down through the line of patriarchs of the race of Seth, but were, at all events, known to Noah, and were by him communicated to his immediate descendants.

4. In consequence of this communication, the true worship of God continued, for some time after the subsidence of the deluge, to be cultivated by the Noachidae, the Noachites, or the descendants of Noah.

5. At a subsequent period (no matter when, but the biblical record places it at the attempted building of the tower of Babel), there was a secession of a large number of the human race from the Noachites.

6. These seceders rapidly lost sight of the divine truths which had been communicated to them from their common ancestor, and fell into the most grievous theological errors, corrupting the purity of the worship and the orthodoxy of the religious faith which they had primarily received.

7. These truths were preserved in their integrity by but a very few in the patriarchal line, while still fewer were enabled to retain only dim and glimmering portions of the true light.

8. The first class was confined to the direct descendants of Noah, and the second was to be found among the priests and philosophers, and, perhaps, still later, among the poets of the heathen nations, and among those whom they initiated into the secrets of these truths. Of the prevalence of these religious truths among the patriarchal descendants of Noah, we have ample evidence in the sacred records. As to their existence among a body of learned heathens, we have the testimony of many intelligent writers who have devoted their energies to this subject. Thus the learned Grote, in his “History of Greece,” says, “The allegorical interpretation of the myths has been, by several learned investigators, especially by Creuzer, connected with the hypothesis of _an ancient and highly instructed body of priests_, having their origin either in Egypt or in the East, and communicating to the rude and barbarous Greeks religious, physical, and historical knowledge, _under the veil of symbols_.” What is here said only of the Greeks is equally applicable to every other intellectual nation of antiquity.

9. The system or doctrine of the former class has been called by Masonic writers the “Pure or Primitive Freemasonry” of antiquity, and that of the latter class the “Spurious Freemasonry” of the same period. These terms were first used, if I mistake not, by Dr. Oliver, and are intended to refer–the word _pure_ to the doctrines taught by the descendants of Noah in the Jewish line and the word _spurious_ to his descendants in the heathen or Gentile line.

10. The masses of the people, among the Gentiles especially, were totally unacquainted with this divine truth, which was the foundation stone of both species of Freemasonry, the pure and the spurious, and were deeply immersed in the errors and falsities of heathen belief and worship.

11. These errors of the heathen religions were not the voluntary inventions of the peoples who cultivated them, but were gradual and almost unavoidable corruptions of the truths which had been at first taught by Noah; and, indeed, so palpable are these corruptions, that they can be readily detected and traced to the original form from which, however much they might vary among different peoples, they had, at one time or another, deviated. Thus, in the life and achievements of Bacchus or Dionysus, we find the travestied counterpart of the career of Moses, and in the name of Vulcan, the blacksmith god, we evidently see an etymological corruption of the appellation of Tubal Cain, the first artificer in metals. For _Vul-can_ is but a modified form of _Baal-Cain_, the god Cain.

12. But those among the masses–and there were some–who were made acquainted with the truth, received their knowledge by means of an initiation into certain sacred Mysteries, in the bosom of which it was concealed from the public gaze.

13. These Mysteries existed in every country of heathendom, in each under a different name, and to some extent under a different form, but always and everywhere with the same design of inculcating, by allegorical and symbolic teachings, the great Masonic doctrines of the unity of God and the immortality of the soul. This is an important proposition, and the fact which it enunciates must never be lost sight of in any inquiry into the origin of Freemasonry; for the pagan Mysteries were to the spurious Freemasonry of antiquity precisely what the Masters’ lodges are to the Freemasonry of the present day. It is needless to offer any proof of their existence, since this is admitted and continually referred to by all historians, ancient and modern; and to discuss minutely their character and organization would occupy a distinct treatise. The Baron de Sainte Croix has written two large volumes on the subject, and yet left it unexhausted.

14. These two divisions of the Masonic Institution which were defined in the 9th proposition, namely, the pure or primitive Freemasonry among the Jewish descendants of the patriarchs, who are called, by way of distinction, the Noachites, or descendants of Noah, because they had not forgotten nor abandoned the teachings of their great ancestor, and the spurious Freemasonry practised among the pagan nations, flowed down the stream of time in parallel currents, often near together, but never commingling.

15. But these two currents were not always to be kept apart, for, springing, in the long anterior ages, from one common fountain,–that ancient priesthood of whom I have already spoken in the 8th proposition,–and then dividing into the pure and spurious Freemasonry of antiquity, and remaining separated for centuries upon centuries, they at length met at the building of the great temple of Jerusalem, and were united, in the instance of the Israelites under King Solomon, and the Tyrians under Hiram, King of Tyre, and Hiram Abif. The spurious Freemasonry, it is true, did not then and there cease to exist. On the contrary, it lasted for centuries subsequent to this period; for it was not until long after, and in the reign of the Emperor Theodosius, that the pagan Mysteries were finally and totally abolished. But by the union of the Jewish or pure Freemasons and the Tyrian or spurious Freemasons at Jerusalem, there was a mutual infusion of their respective doctrines and ceremonies, which eventually terminated in the abolition of the two distinctive systems and the establishment of a new one, that may be considered as the immediate prototype of the present institution. Hence many Masonic students, going no farther back in their investigations than the facts announced in this 15th proposition, are content to find the origin of Freemasonry at the temple of Solomon. But if my theory be correct, the truth is, that it there received, not its birth, but only a new modification of its character. The legend of the third degree–the golden legend, the _legenda aurea_–of Masonry was there adopted by pure Freemasonry, which before had no such legend, from spurious Freemasonry. But the legend had existed under other names and forms, in all the Mysteries, for ages before. The doctrine of immortality, which had hitherto been taught by the Noachites simply as an abstract proposition, was thenceforth to be inculcated by a symbolic lesson–the symbol of Hiram the Builder was to become forever after the distinctive feature of Freemasonry.

16. But another important modification was effected in the Masonic system at the building of the temple. Previous to the union which then took place, the pure Freemasonry of the Noachites had always been speculative, but resembled the present organization in no other way than in the cultivation of the same abstract principles of divine truth.

17. The Tyrians, on the contrary, were architects by profession, and, as their leaders were disciples of the school of the spurious Freemasonry, they, for the first time, at the temple of Solomon, when they united with their Jewish contemporaries, infused into the speculative science, which was practised by the latter, the elements of an operative art.

18. Therefore the system continued thenceforward, for ages, to present the commingled elements of operative and speculative Masonry. We see this in the _Collegia Fabrorum_, or Colleges of Artificers, first established at Rome by Numa, and which were certainly of a Masonic form in their organization; in the Jewish sect of the Essenes, who wrought as well as prayed, and who are claimed to have been the descendants of the temple builders, and also, and still more prominently, in the Travelling Freemasons of the middle ages, who identify themselves by their very name with their modern successors, and whose societies were composed of learned men who thought and wrote, and of workmen who labored and built. And so for a long time Freemasonry continued to be both operative and speculative.

19. But another change was to be effected in the institution to make it precisely what it now is, and, therefore, at a very recent period (comparatively speaking), the operative feature was abandoned, and Freemasonry became wholly speculative. The exact time of this change is not left to conjecture. It took place in the reign of Queen Anne, of England, in the beginning of the eighteenth century. Preston gives us the very words of the decree which established this change, for he says that at that time it was agreed to “that the privileges of Masonry should no longer be restricted to operative Masons, but extend to men of various professions, provided they were regularly approved and initiated into the order.”

The nineteen propositions here announced contain a brief but succinct view of the progress of Freemasonry from its origin in the early ages of the world, simply as a system of religious philosophy, through all the modifications to which it was submitted in the Jewish and Gentile races, until at length it was developed in its present perfected form. During all this time it preserved unchangeably certain features that may hence be considered as its specific characteristics, by which it has always been distinguished from every other contemporaneous association, however such association may have simulated it in outward form. These characteristics are, first, the doctrines which it has constantly taught, namely, that of the unity of God and that of the immortality of the soul; and, secondly, the manner in which these doctrines have been taught, namely, by symbols and allegories.

Taking these characteristics as the exponents of what Freemasonry is, we cannot help arriving at the conclusion that the speculative Masonry of the present day exhibits abundant evidence of the identity of its origin with the spurious Freemasonry of the ante-Solomonic period, both systems coming from the same pure source, but the one always preserving, and the other continually corrupting, the purity of the common fountain. This is also the necessary conclusion as a corollary from the propositions advanced in this essay.

There is also abundant evidence in the history, of which these propositions are but a meagre outline, that a manifest influence was exerted on the pure or primitive Freemasonry of the Noachites by the Tyrian branch of the spurious system, in the symbols, myths, and legends which the former received from the latter, but which it so modified and interpreted as to make them consistent with its own religious system. One thing, at least, is incapable of refutation; and that is, that we are indebted to the Tyrian Masons for the introduction of the symbol of Hiram Abif. The idea of the symbol, although modified by the Jewish Masons, is not Jewish in its inception. It was evidently borrowed from the pagan mysteries, where Bacchus, Adonis, Proserpine, and a host of other apotheosized beings play the same rôle that Hiram does in the Masonic mysteries.

And lastly, we find in the technical terms of Masonry, in its working tools, in the names of its grades, and in a large majority of its symbols, ample testimony of the strong infusion into its religious philosophy of the elements of an operative art. And history again explains this fact by referring to the connection of the institution with the Dionysiac Fraternity of Artificers, who were engaged in building the temple of Solomon, with the Workmen’s Colleges of Numa, and with the Travelling Freemasons of the middle ages, who constructed all the great buildings of that period.

These nineteen propositions, which have been submitted in the present essay, constitute a brief summary or outline of a theory of the true origin of Freemasonry, which long and patient investigation has led me to adopt. To attempt to prove the truth of each of these propositions in its order by logical demonstration, or by historical evidence, would involve the writing of an elaborate treatise. They are now offered simply as suggestions on which the Masonic student may ponder. They are but intended as guide-posts, which may direct him in his journey should he undertake the pleasant although difficult task of instituting an inquiry into the origin and progress of Freemasonry from its birth to its present state of full-grown manhood.

But even in this abridged form they are absolutely necessary as preliminary to any true understanding of the symbolism of Freemasonry.


The Noachidæ.

I proceed, then, to inquire into the historical origin of Freemasonry, as a necessary introduction to any inquiry into the character of its symbolism. To do this, with any expectation of rendering justice to the subject, it is evident that I shall have to take my point of departure at a very remote era. I shall, however, review the early and antecedent history of the institution with as much brevity as a distinct understanding of the subject will admit.

Passing over all that is within the antediluvian history of the world, as something that exerted, so far as our subject is concerned, no influence on the new world which sprang forth from the ruins of the old, we find, soon after the cataclysm, the immediate descendants of Noah in the possession of at least two religious truths, which they received from their common father, and which he must have derived from the line of patriarchs who preceded him. These truths were the doctrine of the existence of a Supreme Intelligence, the Creator, Preserver, and Ruler of the Universe, and, as a necessary corollary, the belief in the immortality of the soul[1], which, as an emanation from that primal cause, was to be distinguished, by a future and eternal life, from the vile and perishable dust which forms its earthly tabernacle.

The assertion that these doctrines were known to and recognized by Noah will not appear as an assumption to the believer in divine revelation. But any philosophic mind must, I conceive, come to the same conclusion, independently of any other authority than that of reason.

The religious sentiment, so far, at least, as it relates to the belief in the existence of God, appears to be in some sense innate, or instinctive, and consequently universal in the human mind[2]. There is no record of any nation, however intellectually and morally debased, that has not given some evidence of a tendency to such belief. The sentiment may be perverted, the idea may be grossly corrupted, but it is nevertheless there, and shows the source whence it sprang[3].

Even in the most debased forms of fetichism, where the negro kneels in reverential awe before the shrine of some uncouth and misshapen idol, which his own hands, perhaps, have made, the act of adoration, degrading as the object may be, is nevertheless an acknowledgment of the longing need of the worshipper to throw himself upon the support of some unknown power higher than his own sphere. And this unknown power, be it what it may, is to him a God.[4]

But just as universal has been the belief in the immortality of the soul. This arises from the same longing in man for the infinite; and although, like the former doctrine, it has been perverted and corrupted, there exists among all nations a tendency to its acknowledgment. Every people, from the remotest times, have wandered involuntarily into the ideal of another world, and sought to find a place for their departed spirits. The deification of the dead, man-worship, or hero-worship, the next development of the religious idea after fetichism, was simply an acknowledgment of the belief in a future life; for the dead could not have been deified unless after death they had continued to live. The adoration of a putrid carcass would have been a form of fetichism lower and more degrading than any that has been discovered.

But man-worship came after fetichism. It was a higher development of the religious sentiment, and included a possible hope for, if not a positive belief in, a future life.

Reason, then, as well as revelation, leads us irresistibly to the conclusion that these two doctrines prevailed among the descendants of Noah, immediately after the deluge. They were believed, too, in all their purity and integrity, because they were derived from the highest and purest source.

These are the doctrines which still constitute the creed of Freemasonry; and hence one of the names bestowed upon the Freemasons from the earliest times was that of the “_Noachidae_” or “_Noachites_” that is to say, the descendants of Noah, and the transmitters of his religious dogmas.


The Primitive Freemasonry of Antiquity.

The next important historical epoch which demands our attention is that connected with what, in sacred history, is known as the dispersion at Babel. The brightness of truth, as it had been communicated by Noah, became covered, as it were, with a cloud. The dogmas of the unity of God and the immortality of the soul were lost sight of, and the first deviation from the true worship occurred in the establishment of Sabianism, or the worship of the sun, moon, and stars, among some peoples, and the deification of men among others. Of these two deviations, Sabianism, or sun-worship, was both the earlier and the more generally diffused.[5] “It seems,” says the learned Owen, “to have had its rise from some broken traditions conveyed by the patriarchs touching the dominion of the sun by day and of the moon by night.” The mode in which this old system has been modified and spiritually symbolized by Freemasonry will be the subject of future consideration.

But Sabianism, while it was the most ancient of the religious corruptions, was, I have said, also the most generally diffused; and hence, even among nations which afterwards adopted the polytheistic creed of deified men and factitious gods, this ancient sun-worship is seen to be continually exerting its influences. Thus, among the Greeks, the most refined people that cultivated hero-worship, Hercules was the sun, and the mythologic fable of his destroying with his arrows the many-headed hydra of the Lernaean marshes was but an allegory to denote the dissipation of paludal malaria by the purifying rays of the orb of day. Among the Egyptians, too, the chief deity, Osiris, was but another name for the sun, while his arch-enemy and destroyer, Typhon, was the typification of night, or darkness. And lastly, among the Hindus, the three manifestations of their supreme deity, Brahma, Siva, and Vishnu, were symbols of the rising, meridian, and setting sun.

This early and very general prevalence of the sentiment of sun-worship is worthy of especial attention on account of the influence that it exercised over the spurious Freemasonry of antiquity, of which I am soon to speak, and which is still felt, although modified and Christianized in our modern system. Many, indeed nearly all, of the masonic symbols of the present day can only be thoroughly comprehended and properly appreciated by this reference to sun-worship.

This divine truth, then, of the existence of one Supreme God, the Grand Architect of the Universe, symbolized in Freemasonry as the TRUE WORD, was lost to the Sabians and to the polytheists who arose after the dispersion at Babel, and with it also disappeared the doctrine of a future life; and hence, in one portion of the masonic ritual, in allusion to this historic fact, we speak of “the lofty tower of Babel, where language was confounded and Masonry lost.”

There were, however, some of the builders on the plain of Shinar who preserved these great religious and masonic doctrines of the unity of God and the immortality of the soul in their pristine purity. These were the patriarchs, in whose venerable line they continued to be taught. Hence, years after the dispersion of the nations at Babel, the world presented two great religious sects, passing onward down the stream of time, side by side, yet as diverse from each other as light from darkness, and truth from falsehood.

One of these lines of religious thought and sentiment was the idolatrous and pagan world. With it all masonic doctrine, at least in its purity, was extinct, although there mingled with it, and at times to some extent influenced it, an offshoot from the other line, to which attention will be soon directed.

The second of these lines consisted, as has already been said, of the patriarchs and priests, who preserved in all their purity the two great masonic doctrines of the unity of God and the immortality of the soul.

This line embraced, then, what, in the language of recent masonic writers, has been designated as the _Primitive Freemasonry of Antiquity_.

Now, it is by no means intended to advance any such gratuitous and untenable theory as that proposed by some imaginative writers, that the Freemasonry of the patriarchs was in its organization, its ritual, or its symbolism, like the system which now exists. We know not indeed, that it had a ritual, or even a symbolism. I am inclined to think that it was made up of abstract propositions, derived from antediluvian traditions. Dr. Oliver thinks it probable that there were a few symbols among these Primitive and Pure Freemasons, and he enumerates among them the serpent, the triangle, and the point within a circle; but I can find no authority for the supposition, nor do I think it fair to claim for the order more than it is fairly entitled to, nor more than it can be fairly proved to possess. When Anderson calls Moses a Grand Master, Joshua his Deputy, and Aholiab and Bezaleel Grand Wardens, the expression is to be looked upon simply as a _façon de parler_, a mode of speech entirely figurative in its character, and by no means intended to convey the idea which is entertained in respect to officers of that character in the present system. It would, undoubtedly, however, have been better that such language should not have been used.

All that can be claimed for the system of Primitive Freemasonry, as practised by the patriarchs, is, that it embraced and taught the two great dogmas of Freemasonry, namely, the unity of God, and the immortality of the soul. It may be, and indeed it is highly probable, that there was a secret doctrine, and that this doctrine was not indiscriminately communicated. We know that Moses, who was necessarily the recipient of the knowledge of his predecessors, did not publicly teach the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. But there was among the Jews an oral or secret law which was never committed to writing until after the captivity; and this law, I suppose, may have contained the recognition of those dogmas of the Primitive Freemasonry.

Briefly, then, this system of Primitive Freemasonry,–without ritual or symbolism, that has come down to us, at least,–consisting solely of traditionary legends, teaching only the two great truths already alluded to, and being wholly speculative in its character, without the slightest infusion of an operative element, was regularly transmitted through the Jewish line of patriarchs, priests, and kings, without alteration, increase, or diminution, to the time of Solomon, and the building of the temple at Jerusalem.

Leaving it, then, to pursue this even course of descent, let us refer once more to that other line of religious history, the one passing through the idolatrous and polytheistic nations of antiquity, and trace from it the regular rise and progress of another division of the masonic institution, which, by way of distinction, has been called the _Spurious Freemasonry of Antiquity_.


The Spurious Freemasonry of Antiquity.

In the vast but barren desert of polytheism–dark and dreary as were its gloomy domains–there were still, however, to be found some few oases of truth. The philosophers and sages of antiquity had, in the course of their learned researches, aided by the light of nature, discovered something of those inestimable truths in relation to God and a future state which their patriarchal contemporaries had received as a revelation made to their common ancestry before the flood, and which had been retained and promulgated after that event by Noah.

They were, with these dim but still purifying perceptions, unwilling to degrade the majesty of the First Great Cause by sharing his attributes with a Zeus and a Hera in Greece, a Jupiter and a Juno in Rome, an Osiris and an Isis in Egypt; and they did not believe that the thinking, feeling, reasoning soul, the guest and companion of the body, would, at the hour of that body’s dissolution, be consigned, with it, to total annihilation.

Hence, in the earliest ages after the era of the dispersion, there were some among the heathen who believed in the unity of God and the immortality of the soul. But these doctrines they durst not publicly teach. The minds of the people, grovelling in superstition, and devoted, as St. Paul testifies of the Athenians, to the worship of unknown gods, were not prepared for the philosophic teachings of a pure theology. It was, indeed, an axiom unhesitatingly enunciated and frequently repeated by their writers, that “there are many truths with which it is useless for the people to be made acquainted, and many fables which it is not expedient that they should know to be false.” [6] Such is the language of Varro, as preserved by St. Augustine; and Strabo, another of their writers, exclaims, “It is not possible for a philosopher to conduct a multitude of women and ignorant people by a method of reasoning, and thus to invite them to piety, holiness, and faith; but the philosopher must also make use of superstition, and not omit the invention of fables and the performance of wonders.” [7]

While, therefore, in those early ages of the world, we find the masses grovelling in the intellectual debasement of a polytheistic and idolatrous religion, with no support for the present, no hope for the future,–living without the knowledge of a supreme and superintending Providence, and dying without the expectation of a blissful immortality,–we shall at the same time find ample testimony that these consoling doctrines were secretly believed by the philosophers and their disciples.

But though believed, they were not publicly taught. They were heresies which it would have been impolitic and dangerous to have broached to the public ear; they were truths which might have led to a contempt of the established system and to the overthrow of the popular superstition. Socrates, the Athenian sage, is an illustrious instance of the punishment that was meted out to the bold innovator who attempted to insult the gods and to poison the minds of youth with the heresies of a philosophic religion. “They permitted, therefore,” says a learned writer on this subject[8], “the multitude to remain plunged as they were in the depth of a gross and complicated idolatry; but for those philosophic few who could bear the light of truth without being confounded by the blaze, they removed the mysterious veil, and displayed to them the Deity in the radiant glory of his unity. From the vulgar eye, however, these doctrines were kept inviolably sacred, and wrapped in the veil of impenetrable mystery.”

The consequence of all this was, that no one was permitted to be invested with the knowledge of these sublime truths, until by a course of severe and arduous trials, by a long and painful initiation, and by a formal series of gradual preparations, he had proved himself worthy and capable of receiving the full light of wisdom. For this purpose, therefore, those peculiar religious institutions were organized which the ancients designated as the MYSTERIES, and which, from the resemblance of their organization, their objects, and their doctrines, have by masonic writers been called the “Spurious Freemasonry of Antiquity.”

Warburton,[9] in giving a definition of what these Mysteries were, says, “Each of the pagan gods had (besides the public and open) a secret worship paid unto him, to which none were admitted but those who had been selected by preparatory ceremonies, called initiation. This secret worship was termed the Mysteries.” I shall now endeavor briefly to trace the connection between these Mysteries and the institution of Freemasonry; and to do so, it will be necessary to enter upon some details of the constitution of those mystic assemblies.

Almost every country of the ancient world had its peculiar Mysteries, dedicated to the occult worship of some especial and favorite god, and to the inculcation of a secret doctrine, very different from that which was taught in the public ceremonial of devotion. Thus in Persia the Mysteries were dedicated to Mithras, or the Sun; in Egypt, to Isis and Osiris; in Greece, to Demeter; in Samothracia, to the gods Cabiri, the Mighty Ones; in Syria, to Dionysus; while in the more northern nations of Europe, such as Gaul and Britain, the initiations were dedicated to their peculiar deities, and were celebrated under the general name of the Druidical rites. But no matter where or how instituted, whether ostensibly in honor of the effeminate Adonis, the favorite of Venus, or of the implacable Odin, the Scandinavian god of war and carnage; whether dedicated to Demeter, the type of the earth, or to Mithras, the symbol of all that fructifies that earth,–the great object and design of the secret instruction were identical in all places, and the Mysteries constituted a school of religion in which the errors and absurdities of polytheism were revealed to the initiated. The candidate was taught that the multitudinous deities of the popular theology were but hidden symbols of the various attributes of the supreme god,–a spirit invisible and indivisible,–and that the soul, as an emanation from his essence, could “never see corruption,” but must, after the death of the body, be raised to an eternal life.[10]

That this was the doctrine and the object of the Mysteries is evident from the concurrent testimony both of those ancient writers who flourished contemporaneously with the practice of them, and of those modern scholars who have devoted themselves to their investigation.

Thus Isocrates, speaking of them in his Panegyric, says, “Those who have been initiated in the Mysteries of Ceres entertain better hopes both as to the end of life and the whole of futurity.” [11]

Epictetus[12] declares that everything in these Mysteries was instituted by the ancients for the instruction and amendment of life.

And Plato[13] says that the design of initiation was to restore the soul to that state of perfection from which it had originally fallen.

Thomas Taylor, the celebrated Platonist, who possessed an unusual acquaintance with the character of these ancient rites, asserts that they “obscurely intimated, by mystic and splendid visions, the felicity of the soul, both here and hereafter, when purified from the defilements of a material nature, and constantly elevated to the realities of intellectual vision.” [14]

Creuzer,[15] a distinguished German writer, who has examined the subject of the ancient Mysteries with great judgment and elaboration, gives a theory on their nature and design which is well worth consideration.

This theory is, that when there had been placed under the eyes of the initiated symbolical representations of the creation of the universe, and the origin of things, the migrations and purifications of the soul, the beginning and progress of civilization and agriculture, there was drawn from these symbols and these scenes in the Mysteries an instruction destined only for the more perfect, or the epopts, to whom were communicated the doctrines of the existence of a single and eternal God, and the destination of the universe and of man.

Creuzer here, however, refers rather to the general object of the instructions, than to the character of the rites and ceremonies by which they were impressed upon the mind; for in the Mysteries, as in Freemasonry, the Hierophant, whom we would now call the Master of the Lodge, often, as Lobeck observes, delivered a mystical lecture, or discourse, on some moral subject.

Faber, who, notwithstanding the predominance in his mind of a theory which referred every rite and symbol of the ancient world to the traditions of Noah, the ark, and the deluge, has given a generally correct view of the systems of ancient religion, describes the initiation into the Mysteries as a scenic representation of the mythic descent into Hades, or the grave, and the return from thence to the light of day.

In a few words, then, the object of instruction in all these Mysteries was the unity of God, and the intention of the ceremonies of initiation into them was, by a scenic representation of death, and subsequent restoration to life,[16] to impress the great truths of the resurrection of the dead and the immortality of the soul.

I need scarcely here advert to the great similarity in design and conformation which existed between these ancient rites and the third or Master’s degree of Masonry. Like it they were all funereal in their character: they began in sorrow and lamentation, they ended in joy; there was an aphanism, or burial; a pastos, or grave; an euresis, or discovery of what had been lost; and a legend, or mythical relation,–all of which were entirely and profoundly symbolical in their character.

And hence, looking to this strange identity of design and form, between the initiations of the ancients and those of the modern Masons, writers have been disposed to designate these mysteries as the SPURIOUS FREEMASONRY OF ANTIQUITY.


The Ancient Mysteries.

I now propose, for the purpose of illustrating these views, and of familiarizing the reader with the coincidences between Freemasonry and the ancient Mysteries, so that he may be better enabled to appreciate the mutual influences of each on the other as they are hereafter to be developed, to present a more detailed relation of one or more of these ancient systems of initiation.

As the first illustration, let us select the Mysteries of Osiris, as they were practised in Egypt, the birthplace of all that is wonderful in the arts or sciences, or mysterious in the religion, of the ancient world.

It was on the Lake of Sais that the solemn ceremonies of the Osirian initiation were performed. “On this lake,” says Herodotus, “it is that the Egyptians represent by night his sufferings whose name I refrain from mentioning; and this representation they call their Mysteries.” [17]

Osiris, the husband of Isis, was an ancient king of the Egyptians. Having been slain by Typhon, his body was cut into pieces[18] by his murderer, and the mangled remains cast upon the waters of the Nile, to be dispersed to the four winds of heaven. His wife, Isis, mourning for the death and the mutilation of her husband, for many days searched diligently with her companions for the portions of the body, and having at length found them, united them together, and bestowed upon them decent interment,–while Osiris, thus restored, became the chief deity of his subjects, and his worship was united with that of Isis, as the fecundating and fertilizing powers of nature. The candidate in these initiations was made to pass through a mimic repetition of the conflict and destruction of Osiris, and his eventual recovery; and the explanations made to him, after he had received the full share of light to which the painful and solemn ceremonies through which he had passed had entitled him, constituted the secret doctrine of which I have already spoken, as the object of all the Mysteries. Osiris,–a real and personal god to the people,–to be worshipped with fear and with trembling, and to be propitiated with sacrifices and burnt offerings, became to the initiate but a symbol of the

“Great first cause, least understood,”

while his death, and the wailing of Isis, with the recovery of the body, his translation to the rank of a celestial being, and the consequent rejoicing of his spouse, were but a tropical mode of teaching that after death comes life eternal, and that though the body be destroyed, the soul shall still live.

“Can we doubt,” says the Baron Sainte Croix, “that such ceremonies as those practised in the Mysteries of Osiris had been originally instituted to impress more profoundly on the mind the dogma of future rewards and punishments?” [19]

“The sufferings and death of Osiris,” says Mr. Wilkinson,[20] “were the great Mystery of the Egyptian religion; and some traces of it are perceptible among other people of antiquity. His being the divine goodness and the abstract idea of ‘good,’ his manifestation upon earth (like an Indian god), his death and resurrection, and his office as judge of the dead in a future state, look like the early revelation of a future manifestation of the deity converted into a mythological fable.”

A similar legend and similar ceremonies, varied only as to time, and place, and unimportant details, were to be found in all the initiations of the ancient Mysteries. The dogma was the same,–future life,–and the method of inculcating it was the same. The coincidences between the design of these rites and that of Freemasonry, which must already begin to appear, will enable us to give its full value to the expression of Hutchinson, when he says that “the Master Mason represents a man under the Christian doctrine saved from the grave of iniquity and raised to the faith of salvation.” [21]

In Phoenicia similar Mysteries were celebrated in honor of Adonis, the favorite lover of Venus, who, having, while hunting, been slain by a wild boar on Mount Lebanon, was restored to life by Proserpine. The mythological story is familiar to every classical scholar. In the popular theology, Adonis was the son of Cinyras, king of Cyrus, whose untimely death was wept by Venus and her attendant nymphs: in the physical theology of the philosophers,[22] he was a symbol of the sun, alternately present to and absent from the earth; but in the initiation into the Mysteries of his worship, his resurrection and return from Hades were adopted as a type of the immortality of the soul. The ceremonies of initiation in the Adonia began with lamentation for his loss,–or, as the prophet Ezekiel expresses it, “Behold, there sat women weeping for Thammuz,”–for such was the name under which his worship was introduced among the Jews; and they ended with the most extravagant demonstrations of joy at the representation of his return to life,[23] while the hierophant exclaimed, in a congratulatory strain,–

“Trust, ye initiates; the god is safe, And from our grief salvation shall arise.”

Before proceeding to an examination of those Mysteries which are the most closely connected with the masonic institution, it will be as well to take a brief view of their general organization.

The secret worship, or Mysteries, of the ancients were always divided into the lesser and the greater; the former being intended only to awaken curiosity, to test the capacity and disposition of the candidate, and by symbolical purifications to prepare him for his introduction into the greater Mysteries.

The candidate was at first called an aspirant, or seeker of the truth, and the initial ceremony which he underwent was a lustration or purification by water. In this condition he may be compared to the Entered Apprentice of the masonic rites, and it is here worth adverting to the fact (which will be hereafter more fully developed) that all the ceremonies in the first degree of masonry are symbolic of an internal purification.

In the lesser Mysteries[24] the candidate took an oath of secrecy, which was administered to him by the mystagogue, and then received a preparatory instruction,[25] which enabled him afterwards to understand the developments of the higher and subsequent division. He was now called a _Mystes_, or initiate, and may be compared to the Fellow Craft of Freemasonry.

In the greater Mysteries the whole knowledge of the divine truths, which was the object of initiation, was communicated. Here we find, among the various ceremonies which assimilated these rites to Freemasonry, the _aphanism_, which was the disappearance or death; the _pastos_, the couch, coffin, or grave; the _euresis_, or the discovery of the body; and the _autopsy_, or full sight of everything, that is, the complete communication of the secrets. The candidate was here called an _epopt_, or eye-witness, because nothing was now hidden from him; and hence he may be compared to the Master Mason, of whom Hutchinson says that “he has discovered the knowledge of God and his salvation, and been redeemed from the death of sin and the sepulchre of pollution and unrighteousness.”


The Dionysiac Artificers.

After this general view of the religious Mysteries of the ancient world, let us now proceed to a closer examination of those which are more intimately connected with the history of Freemasonry, and whose influence is, to this day, most evidently felt in its organization.

Of all the pagan Mysteries instituted by the ancients none were more extensively diffused than those of the Grecian god Dionysus. They were established in Greece, Rome, Syria, and all Asia Minor. Among the Greeks, and still more among the Romans, the rites celebrated on the Dionysiac festival were, it must be confessed, of a dissolute and licentious character.[26] But in Asia they assumed a different form. There, as elsewhere, the legend (for it has already been said that each Mystery had its legend) recounted, and the ceremonies represented, the murder of Dionysus by the Titans. The secret doctrine, too, among the Asiatics, was not different from that among the western nations, but there was something peculiar in the organization of the system. The Mysteries of Dionysus in Syria, more especially, were not simply of a theological character. There the disciples joined to the indulgence in their speculative and secret opinions as to the unity of God and the immortality of the soul, which were common to all the Mysteries, the practice of an operative and architectural art, and occupied themselves as well in the construction of temples and public buildings as in the pursuit of divine truth.

I can account for the greater purity of these Syrian rites only by adopting the ingenious theory of Thirwall,[27] that all the Mysteries “were the remains of a worship which preceded the rise of the Hellenic mythology, and its attendant rites, grounded on a view of nature less fanciful, more earnest, and better fitted to awaken both philosophical thought and religious feeling,” and by supposing that the Asiatics, not being, from their geographical position, so early imbued with the errors of Hellenism, had been better able to preserve the purity and philosophy of the old Pelasgic faith, which, itself, was undoubtedly a direct emanation from the patriarchal religion, or, as it has been called, the Pure Freemasonry of the antediluvian world.

Be this, however, as it may, we know that “the Dionysiacs of Asia Minor were undoubtedly an association of architects and engineers, who had the exclusive privilege of building temples, stadia, and theatres, under the mysterious tutelage of Bacchus, and were distinguished from the uninitiated or profane inhabitants by the science which they possessed, and by many private signs and tokens by which they recognized each other.” [28]

This speculative and operative society[29]–speculative in the esoteric, theologic lessons which were taught in its initiations, and operative in the labors of its members as architects–was distinguished by many peculiarities that closely assimilate it to the institution of Freemasonry. In the practice of charity, the more opulent were bound to relieve the wants and contribute to the support of the poorer brethren. They were divided, for the conveniences of labor and the advantages of government, into smaller bodies, which, like our lodges, were directed by superintending officers. They employed, in their ceremonial observances, many of the implements of operative Masonry, and used, like the Masons, a universal language; and conventional modes of recognition, by which _one brother might know another in the dark as well as the light_, and which served to unite the whole body, wheresoever they might be dispersed, in one common brotherhood.[30]

I have said that in the mysteries of Dionysus the legend recounted the death of that hero-god, and the subsequent discovery of his body. Some further details of the nature of the Dionysiac ritual are, therefore, necessary for a thorough appreciation of the points to which I propose directly to invite attention.

In these mystic rites, the aspirant was made to represent, symbolically and in a dramatic form, the events connected with the slaying of the god from whom the Mysteries derived their name. After a variety of preparatory ceremonies, intended to call forth all his courage and fortitude, the aphanism or mystical death of Dionysus was figured out in the ceremonies, and the shrieks and lamentations of the initiates, with the confinement or burial of the candidate on the pastos, couch, or coffin, constituted the first part of the ceremony of initiation. Then began the search of Rhea for the remains of Dionysus, which was continued amid scenes of the greatest confusion and tumult, until, at last, the search having been successful, the mourning was turned into joy, light succeeded to darkness, and the candidate was invested with the knowledge of the secret doctrine of the Mysteries–the belief in the existence of one God, and a future state of rewards and punishments.[31]

Such were the mysteries that were practised by the architect,–the Freemasons, so to speak–of Asia Minor. At Tyre, the richest and most important city of that region, a city memorable for the splendor and magnificence of the buildings with which it was decorated, there were colonies or lodges of these mystic architects; and this fact I request that you will bear in mind, as it forms an important link in the chain that connects the Dionysiacs with the Freemasons.

But to make every link in this chain of connection complete, it is necessary that the mystic artists of Tyre should be proved to be at least contemporaneous with the building of King Solomon’s temple; and the evidence of that fact I shall now attempt to produce.

Lawrie, whose elaborate researches into this subject leave us nothing further to discover, places the arrival of the Dionysiacs in Asia Minor at the time of the Ionic migration, when “the inhabitants of Attica, complaining of the narrowness of their territory and the unfruitfulness of its soil, went in quest of more extensive and fertile settlements. Being joined by a number of the inhabitants of surrounding provinces, they sailed to Asia Minor, drove out the original inhabitants, and seized upon the most eligible situations, and united them under the name of Ionia, because the greatest number of the refugees were natives of that Grecian province.” [32] With their knowledge of the arts of sculpture and architecture, in which the Greeks had already made some progress, the emigrants brought over to their new settlements their religious customs also, and introduced into Asia the mysteries of Athene and Dionysus long before they had been corrupted by the licentiousness of the mother country.

Now, Playfair places the Ionic migration in the year 1044 B.C., Gillies in 1055, and the Abbé Barthelemy in 1076. But the latest of these periods will extend as far back as forty-four years before the commencement of the temple of Solomon at Jerusalem, and will give ample time for the establishment of the Dionysiac fraternity at the city of Tyre, and the initiation of “Hiram the Builder” into its mysteries.

Let us now pursue the chain of historical events which finally united this purest branch of the Spurious Freemasonry of the pagan nations with the Primitive Freemasonry of the Jews at Jerusalem.

When Solomon, king of Israel, was about to build, in accordance with the purposes of his father, David, “a house unto the name of Jehovah, his God,” he made his intention known to Hiram, king of Tyre, his friend and ally; and because he was well aware of the architectural skill of the Tyrian Dionysiacs, he besought that monarch’s assistance to enable him to carry his pious design into execution. Scripture informs us that Hiram complied with the request of Solomon, and sent him the necessary workmen to assist him in the glorious undertaking. Among others, he sent an architect, who is briefly described, in the First Book of Kings, as “a widow’s son, of the tribe of Naphtali, and his father a man of Tyre, a worker in brass, a man filled with wisdom and understanding and cunning to work all works in brass;” and more fully, in the Second Book of Chronicles, as “a cunning man, endued with understanding of Hiram my father’s, the son of a woman of the daughters of Dan, and his father, a man of Tyre, skilful to work in gold, and in silver, in brass, in iron, in stone, and in timber, in purple, in blue, and in fine linen and in crimson, also to grave any manner of graving, and to find out any device which shall be put to him.”

To this man–this widow’s son (as Scripture history, as well as masonic tradition informs us)–was intrusted by King Solomon an important position among the workmen at the sacred edifice, which was constructed on Mount Moriah. His knowledge and experience as an artificer, and his eminent skill in every kind of “curious and cunning workmanship,” readily placed him at the head of both the Jewish and Tyrian craftsmen, as the chief builder and principal conductor of the works; and it is to him, by means of the large authority which this position gave him, that we attribute the union of two people, so antagonistical in race, so dissimilar in manners, and so opposed in religion, as the Jews and Tyrians, in one common brotherhood, which resulted in the organization of the institution of Freemasonry. This Hiram, as a Tyrian and an artificer, must have been connected with the Dionysiac fraternity; nor could he have been a very humble or inconspicuous member, if we may judge of his rank in the society, from the amount of talent which he is said to have possessed, and from the elevated position that he held in the affections, and at the court, of the king of Tyre. He must, therefore, have been well acquainted with all the ceremonial usages of the Dionysiac artificers, and must have enjoyed a long experience of the advantages of the government and discipline which they practised in the erection of the many sacred edifices in which they were engaged. A portion of these ceremonial usages and of this discipline he would naturally be inclined to introduce among the workmen at Jerusalem. He therefore united them in a society, similar in many respects to that of the Dionysiac artificers. He inculcated lessons of charity and brotherly love; he established a ceremony of initiation, to test experimentally the fortitude and worth of the candidate; adopted modes of recognition; and impressed the obligations of duty and principles of morality by means of symbols and allegories.

To the laborers and men of burden, the Ish Sabal, and to the craftsmen, corresponding with the first and second degrees of more modern Masonry, but little secret knowledge was confided. Like the aspirants in the lesser Mysteries of paganism, their instructions were simply to purify and prepare them for a more solemn ordeal, and for the knowledge of the sublimest truths. These were to be found only in the Master’s degree, which it was intended should be in imitation of the greater Mysteries; and in it were to be unfolded, explained, and enforced the great doctrines of the unity of God and the immortality of the soul. But here there must have at once arisen an apparently insurmountable obstacle to the further continuation of the resemblance of Masonry to the Mysteries of Dionysus. In the pagan Mysteries, I have already said that these lessons were allegorically taught by means of a legend. Now, in the Mysteries of Dionysus, the legend was that of the death and subsequent resuscitation of the god Dionysus. But it would have been utterly impossible to introduce such a legend as the basis of any instructions to be communicated to Jewish candidates. Any allusion to the mythological fables of their Gentile neighbors, any celebration of the myths of pagan theology, would have been equally offensive to the taste and repugnant to the religious prejudices of a nation educated, from generation to generation, in the worship of a divine being jealous of his prerogatives, and who had made himself known to his people as the JEHOVAH, the God of time present, past, and future. How this obstacle would have been surmounted by the Israelitish founder of the order I am unable to say: a substitute would, no doubt, have been invented, which would have met all the symbolic requirements of the legend of the Mysteries, or Spurious Freemasonry, without violating the religious principles of the Primitive Freemasonry of the Jews; but the necessity for such invention never existed, and before the completion of the temple a melancholy event is said to have occurred, which served to cut the Gordian knot, and the death of its chief architect has supplied Freemasonry with its appropriate legend–a legend which, like the legends of all the Mysteries, is used to testify our faith in the resurrection of the body and the immortality of the soul.

Before concluding this part of the subject, it is proper that something should be said of the authenticity of the legend of the third degree. Some distinguished Masons are disposed to give it full credence as an historical fact, while others look upon it only as a beautiful allegory. So far as the question has any bearing upon the symbolism of Freemasonry it is not of importance; but those who contend for its historical character assert that they do so on the following grounds:–

First. Because the character of the legend is such as to meet all the requirements of the well-known axiom of Vincentius Lirinensis, as to what we are to believe in traditionary matters.[33]

“_Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus traditum est._”

That is, we are to believe whatever tradition has been at all times, in all places, and by all persons handed down.

With this rule the legend of Hiram Abif, they say, agrees in every respect. It has been universally received, and almost universally credited, among Freemasons from the earliest times. We have no record of any Masonry having ever existed since the time of the temple without it; and, indeed, it is so closely interwoven into the whole system, forming the most essential part of it, and giving it its most determinative character, that it is evident that the institution could no more exist without the legend, than the legend could have been retained without the institution. This, therefore, the advocates of the historical character of the legend think, gives probability at least to its truth.

Secondly. It is not contradicted by the scriptural history of the transactions at the temple, and therefore, in the absence of the only existing written authority on the subject, we are at liberty to depend on traditional information, provided the tradition be, as it is contended that in this instance it is, reasonable, probable, and supported by uninterrupted succession.

Thirdly. It is contended that the very silence of Scripture in relation to the death of Hiram, the Builder, is an argument in favor of the mysterious nature of that death. A man so important in his position as to have been called the favorite of two kings,–sent by one and received by the other as a gift of surpassing value, and the donation thought worthy of a special record, would hardly have passed into oblivion, when his labor was finished, without the memento of a single line, unless his death had taken place in such a way as to render a public account of it improper. And this is supposed to have been the fact. It had become the legend of the new Mysteries, and, like those of the old ones, was only to be divulged when accompanied with the symbolic instructions which it was intended to impress upon the minds of the aspirants.

But if, on the other hand, it be admitted that the legend of the third degree is a fiction,–that the whole masonic and extra-scriptural account of Hiram Abif is simply a myth,–it could not, in the slightest degree, affect the theory which it is my object to establish. For since, in a mythic relation, as the learned Müller[34] has observed, fact and imagination, the real and the ideal, are very closely united, and since the myth itself always arises, according to the same author, out of a necessity and unconsciousness on the part of its framers, and by impulses which act alike on all, we must go back to the Spurious Freemasonry of the Dionysiacs for the principle which led to the involuntary formation of this Hiramic myth; and then we arrive at the same result, which has been already indicated, namely, that the necessity of the religious sentiment in the Jewish mind, to which the introduction of the legend of Dionysus would have been abhorrent, led to the substitution for it of that of Hiram, in which the ideal parts of the narrative have been intimately blended with real transactions. Thus, that there was such a man as Hiram Abif; that he was the chief builder at the temple of Jerusalem; that he was the confidential friend of the kings of Israel and Tyre, which is indicated by his title of _Ab_, or father; and that he is not heard of after the completion of the temple,–are all historical facts. That he died by violence, and in the way described in the masonic legend, may be also true, or may be merely mythical elements incorporated into the historical narrative.

But whether this be so or not,–whether the legend be a fact or a fiction, a history or a myth,–this, at least, is certain: that it was adopted by the Solomonic Masons of the temple as a substitute for the idolatrous legend of the death of Dionysus which belonged to the Dionysiac Mysteries of the Tyrian workmen.


The Union of Speculative and Operative Masonry at the Temple of Solomon.

Thus, then, we arrive at another important epoch in the history of the origin of Freemasonry.

I have shown how the Primitive Freemasonry, originating in this new world; with Noah, was handed down to his descendants as a purely speculative institution, embracing certain traditions of the nature of God and of the soul.

I have shown how, soon after the deluge, the descendants of Noah separated, one portion, losing their traditions, and substituting in their place idolatrous and polytheistic religions, while the other and smaller portion retained and communicated those original traditions under the name of the Primitive Freemasonry of antiquity.

I have shown how, among the polytheistic nations, there were a few persons who still had a dim and clouded understanding of these traditions, and that they taught them in certain secret institutions, known as the “Mysteries,” thus establishing another branch of the speculative science which is known under the name of the Spurious Freemasonry of antiquity.

Again, I have shown how one sect or division of these Spurious Freemasons existed at Tyre about the time of the building of King Solomon’s temple, and added to their speculative science, which was much purer than that of their contemporary Gentile mystics, the practice of the arts of architecture and sculpture, under the name of the Dionysiac Fraternity of Artificers.

And, lastly, I have shown how, at the building of the Solomonic temple, on the invitation of the king of Israel, a large body of these architects repaired from Tyre to Jerusalem, organized a new institution, or, rather, a modification of the two old ones, the Primitive Freemasons among the Israelites yielding something, and the Spurious Freemasons among the Tyrians yielding more; the former purifying the speculative science, and the latter introducing the operative art, together with the mystical ceremonies with which they accompanied its administration.

It is at this epoch, then, that I place the first union of speculative and operative Masonry,–a union which continued uninterruptedly to exist until a comparatively recent period, to which I shall have occasion hereafter briefly to advert.

The other branches of the Spurious Freemasonry were not, however, altogether and at once abolished by this union, but continued also to exist and teach their half-truthful dogmas, for ages after, with interrupted success and diminished influence, until, in the fifth century of the Christian era, the whole of them were proscribed by the Emperor Theodosius. From time to time, however, other partial unions took place, as in the instance of Pythagoras, who, originally a member of the school of Spurious Freemasonry, was, during his visit to Babylon, about four hundred and fifty years after the union at the temple of Jerusalem, initiated by the captive Israelites into the rites of Temple Masonry, whence the instructions of that sage approximate much more nearly to the principles of Freemasonry, both in spirit and in letter, than those of any other of the philosophers of antiquity; for which reason he is familiarly called, in the modern masonic lectures, “an ancient friend and brother,” and an important symbol of the order, the forty-seventh problem of Euclid, has been consecrated to his memory.

I do not now propose to enter upon so extensive a task as to trace the history of the institution from the completion of the first temple to its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar; through the seventy-two years of Babylonish captivity to the rebuilding of the second temple by Zerubbabel; thence to the devastation of Jerusalem by Titus, when it was first introduced into Europe; through all its struggles in the middle ages, sometimes protected and sometimes persecuted by the church, sometimes forbidden by the law and oftener encouraged by the monarch; until, in the beginning of the sixteenth century, it assumed its present organization. The details would require more time for their recapitulation than the limits of the present work will permit.

But my object is not so much to give a connected history of the progress of Freemasonry as to present a rational view of its origin and an examination of those important modifications which, from time to time, were impressed upon it by external influences, so as to enable us the more readily to appreciate the true character and design of its symbolism.

Two salient points, at least, in its subsequent history, especially invite attention, because they have an important bearing on its organization, as a combined speculative and operative institution.


The Travelling Freemasons of the Middle Ages.

The first of these points to which I refer is the establishment of a body of architects, widely disseminated throughout Europe during the middle ages under the avowed name of _Travelling Freemasons_. This association of workmen, said to have been the descendants of the Temple Masons, may be traced by the massive monuments of their skill at as early a period as the ninth or tenth century; although, according to the authority of Mr. Hope, who has written elaborately on the subject, some historians have found the evidence of their existence in the seventh century, and have traced a peculiar masonic language in the reigns of Charlemagne of France and Alfred of England.

It is to these men, to their preeminent skill in architecture, and to their well-organized system as a class of workmen, that the world is indebted for those magnificent edifices which sprang up in such undeviating principles of architectural form during the middle ages.

“Wherever they came,” says Mr. Hope, “in the suite of missionaries, or were called by the natives, or arrived of their own accord, to seek employment, they appeared headed by a chief surveyor, who governed the whole troop, and named one man out of every ten, under the name of warden, to overlook the nine others, set themselves to building temporary huts[35] for their habitation around the spot where the work was to be carried on, regularly organized their different departments, fell to work, sent for fresh supplies of their brethren as the object demanded, and, when all was finished, again raised their encampment, and went elsewhere to undertake other jobs.” [36]

This society continued to preserve the commingled features of operative and speculative masonry, as they had been practised at the temple of Solomon. Admission to the community was not restricted to professional artisans, but men of eminence, and particularly ecclesiastics, were numbered among its members. “These latter,” says Mr. Hope, “were especially anxious, themselves, to direct the improvement and erection of their churches and monasteries, and to manage the expenses of their buildings, and became members of an establishment which had so high and sacred a destination, was so entirely exempt from all local, civil jurisdiction, acknowledged the pope alone as its direct chief, and only worked under his immediate authority; and thence we read of so many ecclesiastics of the highest rank–abbots, prelates, bishops–conferring additional weight and respectability on the order of Freemasonry by becoming its members–themselves giving the designs and superintending the construction of their churches, and employing the manual labor of their own monks in the edification of them.”

Thus in England, in the tenth century, the Masons are said to have received the special protection of King Athelstan; in the eleventh century, Edward the Confessor declared himself their patron; and in the twelfth, Henry I. gave them his protection.

Into Scotland the Freemasons penetrated as early as the beginning of the twelfth century, and erected the Abbey of Kilwinning, which afterwards became the cradle of Scottish Masonry under the government of King Robert Bruce.

Of the magnificent edifices which they erected, and of their exalted condition under both ecclesiastical and lay patronage in other countries, it is not necessary to give a minute detail. It is sufficient to say that in every part of Europe evidences are to be found of the existence of Freemasonry, practised by an organized body of workmen, and with whom men of learning were united; or, in other words, of a combined operative and speculative institution.

What the nature of this speculative science continued to be, we may learn from that very curious, if authentic, document, dated at Cologne, in the year 1535, and hence designated as the “Charter of Cologne.” In that instrument, which purports to have been issued by the heads of the order in nineteen different and important cities of Europe, and is addressed to their brethren as a defence against the calumnies of their enemies, it is announced that the order took its origin at a time “when a few adepts, distinguished by their life, their moral doctrine, and their sacred interpretation of the arcanic truths, withdrew themselves from the multitude in order more effectually to preserve uncontaminated the moral precepts of that religion which is implanted in the mind of man.”

We thus, then, have before us an aspect of Freemasonry as it existed in the middle ages, when it presents itself to our view as both operative and speculative in its character. The operative element that had been infused into it by the Dionysiac artificers of Tyre, at the building of the Solomonic temple, was not yet dissevered from the pure speculative element which had prevailed in it anterior to that period.


Disseverance of the Operative Element.

The next point to which our attention is to be directed is when, a few centuries later, the operative character of the institution began to be less prominent, and the speculative to assume a pre-eminence which eventually ended in the total separation of the two.

At what precise period the speculative began to predominate over the operative element of the society, it is impossible to say. The change was undoubtedly gradual, and is to be attributed, in all probability, to the increased number of literary and scientific men who were admitted into the ranks of the fraternity.

The Charter of Cologne, to which I have just alluded, speaks of “learned and enlightened men” as constituting the society long before the date of that document, which was 1535; but the authenticity of this work has, it must be confessed, been impugned, and I will not, therefore, press the argument on its doubtful authority. But the diary of that celebrated antiquary, Elias Ashmole, which is admitted to be authentic, describes his admission in the year 1646 into the order, when there is no doubt that the operative character was fast giving way to the speculative. Preston tells us that about thirty years before, when the Earl of Pembroke assumed the Grand Mastership of England, “many eminent, wealthy, and learned men were admitted.”

In the year 1663 an assembly of the Freemasons of England was held at London, and the Earl of St. Albans was elected Grand Master. At this assembly certain regulations were adopted, in which the qualifications prescribed for candidates clearly allude to the speculative character of the institution.

And, finally, at the commencement of the eighteenth century, and during the reign of Queen Anne, who died, it will be remembered, in 1714, a proposition was agreed to by the society “that the privileges of Masonry should no longer be restricted to operative masons, but extend to men of various professions, provided that they were regularly approved and initiated into the order.”

Accordingly the records of the society show that from the year 1717, at least, the era commonly, but improperly, distinguished as the restoration of Masonry, the operative element of the institution has been completely discarded, except so far as its influence is exhibited in the choice and arrangement of symbols, and the typical use of its technical language.

* * * * *

The history of the origin of the order is here concluded; and in briefly recapitulating, I may say that in its first inception, from the time of Noah to the building of the temple of Solomon, it was entirely speculative in its character; that at the construction of that edifice, an operative element was infused into it by the Tyrian builders; that it continued to retain this compound operative and speculative organization until about the middle of the seventeenth century, when the latter element began to predominate; and finally, that at the commencement of the eighteenth century, the operative element wholly disappeared, and the society has ever since presented itself in the character of a simply speculative association.

The history that I have thus briefly sketched, will elicit from every reflecting mind at least two deductions of some importance to the intelligent Mason.

In the first place, we may observe, that ascending, as the institution does, away up the stream of time, almost to the very fountains of history, for its source, it comes down to us, at this day, with so venerable an appearance of antiquity, that for that cause and on that claim alone it demands the respect of the world. It is no recent invention of human genius, whose vitality has yet to be tested by the wear and tear of time and opposition, and no sudden growth of short-lived enthusiasm, whose existence may be as ephemeral as its birth was recent. One of the oldest of these modern institutions, the Carbonarism of Italy, boasts an age that scarcely amounts to the half of a century, and has not been able to extend its progress beyond the countries of Southern Europe, immediately adjacent to the place of its birth; while it and every other society of our own times that have sought to simulate the outward appearance of Freemasonry, seem to him who has examined the history of this ancient institution to have sprung around it, like mushrooms bursting from between the roots and vegetating under the shade of some mighty and venerable oak, the patriarch of the forest, whose huge trunk and wide-extended branches have protected them from the sun and the gale, and whose fruit, thrown off in autumn, has enriched and fattened the soil that gives these humbler plants their power of life and growth.

But there is a more important deduction to be drawn from this narrative. In tracing the progress of Freemasonry, we shall find it so intimately connected with the history of philosophy, of religion, and of art in all ages of the world, that it is evident that no Mason can expect thoroughly to understand the nature of the institution, or to appreciate its character, unless he shall carefully study its annals, and make himself conversant with the facts of history, to which and from which it gives and receives a mutual influence. The brother who unfortunately supposes that the only requisites of a skilful Mason consist in repeating with fluency the ordinary lectures, or in correctly opening and closing the lodge, or in giving with sufficient accuracy the modes of recognition, will hardly credit the assertion, that he whose knowledge of the “royal art” extends no farther than these preliminaries has scarcely advanced beyond the rudiments of our science. There is a far nobler series of doctrines with which Freemasonry is connected, and which no student ever began to investigate who did not find himself insensibly led on, from step to step in his researches, his love and admiration of the order increasing with the augmentation of his acquaintance with its character. It is this which constitutes the science and the philosophy of Freemasonry, and it is this alone which will return the scholar who devotes himself to the task a sevenfold reward for his labor.

With this view I propose, in the next place, to enter upon an examination of that science and philosophy as they are developed in the system of symbolism, which owes its existence to this peculiar origin and organization of the order, and without a knowledge of which, such as I have attempted to portray it in this preliminary inquiry, the science itself could never be understood.


The System of Symbolic Instuction.

The lectures of the English lodges, which are far more philosophical than our own,–although I do not believe that the system itself is in general as philosophically studied by our English brethren as by ourselves,–have beautifully defined Freemasonry to be “a science of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” But allegory itself is nothing else but verbal symbolism; it is the symbol of an idea, or of a series of ideas, not presented to the mind in an objective and visible form, but clothed in language, and exhibited in the form of a narrative. And therefore the English definition amounts, in fact, to this: that _Freemasonry is a science of morality, developed and inculcated by the ancient method of symbolism_. It is this peculiar character as a symbolic institution, this entire adoption of the method of instruction by symbolism, which gives its whole identity to Freemasonry, and has caused it to differ from every other association that the ingenuity of man has devised. It is this that has bestowed upon it that attractive form which has always secured the attachment of its disciples and its own perpetuity.

The Roman Catholic church[37] is, perhaps, the only contemporaneous institution which continues to cultivate, in any degree, the beautiful system of symbolism. But that which, in the Catholic church, is, in a great measure, incidental, and the fruit of development, is, in Freemasonry, the very life-blood and soul of the institution, born with it at its birth, or, rather, the germ from which the tree has sprung, and still giving it support, nourishment, and even existence. Withdraw from Freemasonry its symbolism, and you take from the body its soul, leaving behind nothing but a lifeless mass of effete matter, fitted only for a rapid decay.

Since, then, the science of symbolism forms so important a part of the system of Freemasonry, it will be well to commence any discussion of that subject by an investigation of the nature of symbols in general.

There is no science so ancient as that of symbolism,[38] and no mode of instruction has ever been so general as was the symbolic in former ages. “The first learning in the world,” says the great antiquary, Dr. Stukely, “consisted chiefly of symbols. The wisdom of the Chaldeans, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Jews, of Zoroaster, Sanchoniathon, Pherecydes, Syrus, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, of all the ancients that is come to our hand, is symbolic.” And the learned Faber remarks, that “allegory and personification were peculiarly agreeable to the genius of antiquity, and the simplicity of truth was continually sacrificed at the shrine of poetical decoration.”

In fact, man’s earliest instruction was by symbols.[39] The objective character of a symbol is best calculated to be grasped by the infant mind, whether the infancy of that mind be considered _nationally_ or _individually_. And hence, in the first ages of the world, in its infancy, all propositions, theological, political, or scientific, were expressed in the form of symbols. Thus the first religions were eminently symbolical, because, as that great philosophical historian, Grote, has remarked, “At a time when language was yet in its infancy, visible symbols were the most vivid means of acting upon the minds of ignorant hearers.”

Again: children receive their elementary teaching in symbols. “A was an Archer;” what is this but symbolism? The archer becomes to the infant mind the symbol of the letter A, just as, in after life, the letter becomes, to the more advanced mind, the symbol of a certain sound of the human voice.[40] The first lesson received by a child in acquiring his alphabet is thus conveyed by symbolism. Even in the very formation of language, the medium of communication between man and man, and which must hence have been an elementary step in the progress of human improvement, it was found necessary to have recourse to symbols, for words are only and truly certain arbitrary symbols by which and through which we give an utterance to our ideas. The construction of language was, therefore, one of the first products of the science of symbolism.

We must constantly bear in mind this fact, of the primary existence and predominance of symbolism in the earliest times.[41] when we are investigating the nature of the ancient religions, with which the history of Freemasonry is so intimately connected. The older the religion, the more the symbolism abounds. Modern religions may convey their dogmas in abstract propositions; ancient religions always conveyed them in symbols. Thus there is more symbolism in the Egyptian religion than in the Jewish, more in the Jewish than in the Christian, more in the Christian than in the Mohammedan, and, lastly, more in the Roman than in the Protestant.

But symbolism is not only the most ancient and general, but it is also the most practically useful, of sciences. We have already seen how actively it operates in the early stages of life and of society. We have seen how the first ideas of men and of nations are impressed upon their minds by means of symbols. It was thus that the ancient peoples were almost wholly educated.

“In the simpler stages of society,” says one writer on this subject, “mankind can be instructed in the abstract knowledge of truths only by symbols and parables. Hence we find most heathen religions becoming mythic, or explaining their mysteries by allegories, or instructive incidents. Nay, God himself, knowing the nature of the creatures formed by him, has condescended, in the earlier revelations that he made of himself, to teach by symbols; and the greatest of all teachers instructed the multitudes by parables.[42] The great exemplar of the ancient philosophy and the grand archetype of modern philosophy were alike distinguished by their possessing this faculty in a high degree, and have told us that man was best instructed by similitudes.” [43]

Such is the system adopted in Freemasonry for the development and inculcation of the great religious and philosophical truths, of which it was, for so many years, the sole conservator. And it is for this reason that I have already remarked, that any inquiry into the symbolic character of Freemasonry, must be preceded by an investigation of the nature of symbolism in general, if we would properly appreciate its particular use in the organization of the masonic institution.

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The Symbolism of Freemasonry by Albert G. Mackey

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