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The Symbolism of Freemasonry:
Illustrating and Explaining
Its Science and Philosophy, its Legends,
Myths and Symbols.
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
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
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.
ALBERT G. MACKEY, M.D.
CHARLESTON, S.C., Feb. 22, 1869.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 role that Hiram does in the Masonic
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
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
But even in this abridged form they are absolutely necessary as
preliminary to any true understanding of the symbolism of Freemasonry.
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, 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. 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.
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.
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
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. "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
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
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 _facon 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
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."  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." 
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, "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
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, 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
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." 
Epictetus declares that everything in these Mysteries was instituted
by the ancients for the instruction and amendment of life.
And Plato 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
Creuzer, 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, 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." 
Osiris, the husband of Isis, was an ancient king of the Egyptians. Having
been slain by Typhon, his body was cut into pieces 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
"The sufferings and death of Osiris," says Mr. Wilkinson, "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." 
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, 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, while the hierophant exclaimed, in a congratulatory
"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
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
In the lesser Mysteries the candidate took an oath of secrecy, which
was administered to him by the mystagogue, and then received a preparatory
instruction, 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
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. 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, 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
This speculative and operative society--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.
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.
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."  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
Now, Playfair places the Ionic migration in the year 1044 B.C., Gillies in
1055, and the Abbe 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.
"_Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus traditum
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
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 Mueller 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
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
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
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
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." 
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
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
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
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
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
The history that I have thus briefly sketched, will elicit from every
reflecting mind at least two deductions of some importance to the
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 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
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, 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
In fact, man's earliest instruction was by symbols. 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. 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. 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
"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. 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." 
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.
The Speculative Science and the Operative Art.
And now, let us apply this doctrine of symbolism to an investigation of
the nature of a speculative science, as derived from an operative art; for
the fact is familiar to every one that Freemasonry is of two kinds. We
work, it is true, in speculative Masonry only, but our ancient brethren
wrought in both operative and speculative; and it is now well understood
that the two branches are widely apart in design and in character--the one
a mere useful art, intended for the protection and convenience of man and
the gratification of his physical wants, the other a profound science,
entering into abstruse investigations of the soul and a future existence,
and originating in the craving need of humanity to know something that is
above and beyond the mere outward life that surrounds us with its gross
atmosphere here below. Indeed, the only bond or link that unites
speculative and operative Masonry is the symbolism that belongs
altogether to the former, but which, throughout its whole extent, is
derived from the latter.
Our first inquiry, then, will be into the nature of the symbolism which
operative gives to speculative Masonry; and thoroughly to understand
this--to know its origin, and its necessity, and its mode of
application--we must begin with a reference to the condition of a long
past period of time.
Thousands of years ago, this science of symbolism was adopted by the
sagacious priesthood of Egypt to convey the lessons of worldly wisdom and
religious knowledge, which they thus communicated to their disciples.
Their science, their history, and their philosophy were thus concealed
beneath an impenetrable veil from all the profane, and only the few who
had passed through the severe ordeal of initiation were put in possession
of the key which enabled them to decipher and read with ease those mystic
lessons which we still see engraved upon the obelisks, the tombs, and the
sarcophagi, which lie scattered, at this day, in endless profusion along
the banks of the Nile.
From the Egyptians the same method of symbolic instruction was diffused
among all the pagan nations of antiquity, and was used in all the ancient
Mysteries as the medium of communicating to the initiated the esoteric
and secret doctrines for whose preservation and promulgation these
singular associations were formed.
Moses, who, as Holy Writ informs us, was skilled in all the learning of
Egypt, brought with him, from that cradle of the sciences, a perfect
knowledge of the science of symbolism, as it was taught by the priests of
Isis and Osiris, and applied it to the ceremonies with which he invested
the purer religion of the people for whom he had been appointed to
Hence we learn, from the great Jewish historian, that, in the construction
of the tabernacle, which gave the first model for the temple at Jerusalem,
and afterwards for every masonic lodge, this principle of symbolism was
applied to every part of it. Thus it was divided into three parts, to
represent the three great elementary divisions of the universe--the land,
the sea, and the air. The first two, or exterior portions, which were
accessible to the priests and the people, were symbolic of the land and
the sea, which all men might inhabit; while the third, or interior
division,--the holy of holies,--whose threshold no mortal dared to cross,
and which was peculiarly consecrated to GOD, was emblematic of heaven, his
dwelling-place. The veils, too, according to Josephus, were intended for
symbolic instruction in their color and their materials. Collectively,
they represented the four elements of the universe; and, in passing, it
may be observed that this notion of symbolizing the universe characterized
all the ancient systems, both the true and the false, and that the remains
of the principle are to be found everywhere, even at this day, pervading
Masonry, which is but a development of these systems. In the four veils of
the tabernacle, the white or fine linen signified the earth, from which
flax was produced; the scarlet signified fire, appropriately represented
by its flaming color; the purple typified the sea, in allusion to the
shell-fish murex, from which the tint was obtained; and the blue, the
color of the firmament, was emblematic of air.
It is not necessary to enter into a detail of the whole system of
religious symbolism, as developed in the Mosaic ritual. It was but an
application of the same principles of instruction, that pervaded all the
surrounding Gentile nations, to the inculcation of truth. The very idea of
the ark itself was borrowed, as the discoveries of the modern
Egyptologists have shown us, from the banks of the Nile; and the
breastplate of the high priest, with its Urim and Thummim, was
indebted for its origin to a similar ornament worn by the Egyptian judge.
The system was the same; in its application, only, did it differ.
With the tabernacle of Moses the temple of King Solomon is closely
connected: the one was the archetype of the other. Now, it is at the
building of that temple that we must place the origin of Freemasonry in
its present organization: not that the system did not exist before, but
that the union of its operative and speculative character, and the mutual
dependence of one upon the other, were there first established.
At the construction of this stupendous edifice--stupendous, not in
magnitude, for many a parish church has since excelled it in size, but
stupendous in the wealth and magnificence of its ornaments--the wise king
of Israel, with all that sagacity for which he was so eminently
distinguished, and aided and counselled by the Gentile experience of the
king of Tyre, and that immortal architect who superintended his workmen,
saw at once the excellence and beauty of this method of inculcating moral
and religious truth, and gave, therefore, the impulse to that symbolic
reference of material things to a spiritual sense, which has ever since
distinguished the institution of which he was the founder.
If I deemed it necessary to substantiate the truth of the assertion that
the mind of King Solomon was eminently symbolic in its propensities, I
might easily refer to his writings, filled as they are to profusion with
tropes and figures. Passing over the Book of Canticles,--that great
lyrical drama, whose abstruse symbolism has not yet been fully evolved or
explained, notwithstanding the vast number of commentators who have
labored at the task,--I might simply refer to that beautiful passage in
the twelfth chapter of Ecclesiastes, so familiar to every Mason as being
appropriated, in the ritual, to the ceremonies of the third degree, and in
which a dilapidated building is metaphorically made to represent the
decays and infirmities of old age in the human body. This brief but
eloquent description is itself an embodiment of much of our masonic
symbolism, both as to the mode and the subject matter.
In attempting any investigation into the symbolism of Freemasonry, the
first thing that should engage our attention is the general purport of the
institution, and the mode in which its symbolism is developed. Let us
first examine it as a whole, before we investigate its parts, just as we
would first view, as critics, the general effect of a building, before we
began to inquire into its architectural details.
Looking, then, in this way, at the institution--coming down to us, as it
has, from a remote age--having passed unaltered and unscathed through a
thousand revolutions of nations--and engaging, as disciples in its school
of mental labor, the intellectual of all times--the first thing that must
naturally arrest the attention is the singular combination that it
presents of an operative with a speculative organization--an art with a
science--the technical terms and language of a mechanical profession with
the abstruse teachings of a profound philosophy.
Here it is before us--a venerable school, discoursing of the deepest
subjects of wisdom, in which sages might alone find themselves
appropriately employed, and yet having its birth and deriving its first
life from a society of artisans, whose only object was, apparently, the
construction of material edifices of stone and mortar.
The nature, then, of this operative and speculative combination, is the
first problem to be solved, and the symbolism which depends upon it is the
first feature of the institution which is to be developed.
Freemasonry, in its character as an operative art, is familiar to every
one. As such, it is engaged in the application of the rules and principles
of architecture to the construction of edifices for private and public
use--houses for the dwelling-place of man, and temples for the worship of
Deity. It abounds, like every other art, in the use of technical terms,
and employs, in practice, an abundance of implements and materials which
are peculiar to itself.
Now, if the ends of operative Masonry had here ceased,--if this technical
dialect and these technical implements had never been used for any other
purpose, nor appropriated to any other object, than that of enabling its
disciples to pursue their artistic labors with greater convenience to
themselves,--Freemasonry would never have existed. The same principles
might, and in all probability would, have been developed in some other
way; but the organization, the name, the mode of instruction, would all
have most materially differed.
But the operative Masons, who founded the order, were not content with
the mere material and manual part of their profession: they adjoined to
it, under the wise instructions of their leaders, a correlative branch of
And hence, to the Freemason, this operative art has been symbolized in
that intellectual deduction from it, which has been correctly called
Speculative Masonry. At one time, each was an integrant part of one
undivided system. Not that the period ever existed when every operative
mason was acquainted with, or initiated into, the speculative science.
Even now, there are thousands of skilful artisans who know as little of
that as they do of the Hebrew language which was spoken by its founder.
But operative Masonry was, in the inception of our history, and is, in
some measure, even now, the skeleton upon which was strung the living
muscles, and tendons, and nerves of the speculative system. It was the
block of marble--rude and unpolished it may have been--from which was
sculptured the life-breathing statue.
Speculative Masonry (which is but another name for Freemasonary in its
modern acceptation) may be briefly defined as the scientific application
and the religious consecration of the rules and principles, the language,
the implements and materials of operative Masonry to the veneration of
God, the purification of the heart, and the inculcation of the dogmas of a
He Symbolism of Solomon'S Temple.
I have said that the operative art is symbolized--that is to say, used as
a symbol--in the speculative science. Let us now inquire, as the subject
of the present essay, how this is done in reference to a system of
symbolism dependent for its construction on types and figures derived from
the temple of Solomon, and which we hence call the "Temple Symbolism of
Bearing in mind that speculative Masonry dates its origin from the
building of King Solomon's temple by Jewish and Tyrian artisans, the
first important fact that attracts the attention is, that the operative
masons at Jerusalem were engaged in the construction of an earthly and
material temple, to be dedicated to the service and worship of God--a
house in which Jehovah was to dwell visibly by his Shekinah, and whence he
was, by the Urim and Thummim, to send forth his oracles for the
government and direction of his chosen people.
Now, the operative art having, _for us_, ceased, we, as speculative
Masons, symbolize the labors of our predecessors by engaging in the
construction of a spiritual temple in our hearts, pure and spotless, fit
for the dwelling-place of Him who is the author of purity--where God is to
be worshipped in spirit and in truth, and whence every evil thought and
unruly passion is to be banished, as the sinner and the Gentile were
excluded from the sanctuary of the Jewish temple.
This spiritualizing of the temple of Solomon is the first, the most
prominent and most pervading of all the symbolic instructions of
Freemasonry. It is the link that binds the operative and speculative
divisions of the order. It is this which gives it its religious character.
Take from Freemasonry its dependence on the temple, leave out of its
ritual all reference to that sacred edifice, and to the legends connected
with it, and the system itself must at once decay and die, or at best
remain only as some fossilized bone, imperfectly to show the nature of the
living body to which it once belonged.
Temple worship is in itself an ancient type of the religious sentiment in
its progress towards spiritual elevation. As soon as a nation emerged, in
the world's progress, out of Fetichism, or the worship of visible
objects,--the most degraded form of idolatry,--its people began to
establish a priesthood and to erect temples. The Scandinavians, the
Celts, the Egyptians, and the Greeks, however much they may have differed
in the ritual and the objects of their polytheistic worship, all were
possessed of priests and temples. The Jews first constructed their