MASONRY AND ITS SYMBOLS
Harold W. Percival
The Brotherhood of Freemasons. Compass. Membership. Age. Temples. Intelligences behind Masonry. Purpose and plan. Masonry and religions. The essential and the temporary teachings. The fundamental principles of the three degrees. Offshoots. Great truths locked up in trivial forms. The secret language. Passive and active thinking. Lines on the breath-form. Discipline of desires and of mental operations. The ancient landmarks. Masons should see the importance of their Order.
The Brotherhood of Freemasons is the largest of the bodies in the world which are outposts to prepare possible candidates for an inward life. They are men drawn from all ranks and races for whose character and intelligence a Master Mason has at one time vouched. Masonry is for Humanity, the conscious self in every human body, not for any special race, religion or clique.
The Order existed under one name or another as a compact, well-organized body long before the building of the oldest pyramid. It is older than any religion known today. It is the extraordinary thing among organizations in the world. This organization and the system of its teachings, with the tools, landmarks, emblems and symbols, have always been substantially the same. It goes back to the age when bodies became male or female. The temple has always been a symbol of a rebuilt human body. Some of the legendary masonic temples, whose place is now taken by that of Solomon, were circles, ovals, squares and oblongs of stones. Sometimes the stones were connected at the top by slabs, later by two pieces of stone pitted against each other in triangular form, and then by semicircular arches. Sometimes the temples were enclosed by walls; these temples were open at the top, and the vault of heaven was the roof. So symbolic temples were built for the worship of the Lord, until the last that figures in the Masonic ritual is called Solomon’s Temple.
Intelligences in the earth sphere are behind Masonry, though the lodges are not aware of this in the present age. The spirit that runs through the system of the masonic teachings connects these Intelligences with every Mason, from the greatest to the least, who practices them.
The purpose of Masonry is to train a human being so that he will reconstruct, through the body of change and death which he now has, a perfect physical body which shall not be subject to death. The plan is to build this deathless body, called by modern Masons Solomon’s Temple, out of material in the physical body, which is called the ruins of Solomon’s Temple. The plan is to build a temple not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, which is the cryptic name for the deathless physical vesture. The Masons say that in the building of Solomon’s Temple there was not heard the sound of an axe, hammer or any tool of iron; nor will any sound be heard in the rebuilding of the temple. A Masonic prayer is: “And since sin has destroyed within us the first temple of purity and innocence, may thy heavenly grace guide and assist us in rebuilding a second temple of reformation, and may the glory of this latter house be greater than the glory of the former.”
There are no better and no more advanced teachings available to human beings, than those of Masonry. The symbols used in the Craft are chiefly tools of a mason and instruments of an architect. The symbols have been substantially the same from immemorial times; though their shape and interpretation have changed, and though the rituals and lectures about them changed with the prevailing cyclic religion of the age. The doctrines of all religions are so made that they can be used for masonic teachings. In modern western Masonry, that is, what the Masons call Ancient Masonry, Masonry is given in forms of the Hebrew religion, with some additions from the New Testament. The teachings are not Hebrew. But Masonry uses parts of Hebrew traditions to clothe and present its own teachings, because the Hebrew traditions are familiar and acceptable as parts of the Bible. The masonic teachings might be presented in Egyptian or pre-Egyptian Greek clothes, if the people were familiar with them. The Hebrew traditions are colorful and impressive. Besides, the physical body in which the reconstruction has to go on is the divided name of Jah-veh or Jah-hovah. Yet the rituals are sometimes easily shaped to exemplify Christianity, by making Christ the Supreme Grand Master, and the Great Architect of the Universe can be interpreted as a Christian God. But Masonry is not Christian any more than it is Jewish. The temporary interpretations according to age and place and religion are looked upon by the common run of Masons as absolute and as the truth.
Often the symbology is obscured by adornments, additions, changes and omissions. Sometimes whole Orders are instituted in these ways and specialize a particular religious, warlike, or social feature. They disappear again, while the symbols and the teachings of which they are a part, remain.
The principles of Masonry are represented in the first three degrees, those of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason, and in the development of those degrees in the Holy Royal Arch. The principles there represented are fundamental, whether found in the York rite, the Scottish rite, or in any other masonic rite. Some rites have degrees which are merely local, personal, social and inviting. There are many side rites, side issues, side degrees, which gifted ritualists have brought into existence, but the principles of Masonry are few and survive the ages and their styles.
Masonry is the trunk or physical connection from which different Orders are formed from time to time. Rosicrucianism in the Middle Ages and other movements of a later date were offshoots put out through members of the Masonic Order, to meet a need of the times without entangling Masonry itself.
In many of the forms of the masonic work that seem trivial and childish are locked up great truths. The truths have to be presented in some symbol or by some work, because human beings need forms in which to see truths. They call truths platitudes, yet cannot see them. When truths are put into forms which are parts of physical life, an apt and striking application of such truths impresses itself upon those who see and feel the application and holds their interest.
It is possible to arrange, and Masonry does arrange, information about fundamental truths about the conscious self and its relation to nature in a systematic way, though in simple forms. By constant repetition of these forms their application to life in general becomes evident. The words used in connection with these forms become a secret language whether the forms be symbols, jewels, tools, badges, emblems, degrees, steps, signs, grips, words, ceremonies, points, lines, angles, surfaces, or simple stories. A common language is a bond of brotherhood, and a secret language which is not bestowed by birth, as is the language of one’s country, but by common choice and service, is one of the strongest ties that hold men together. Also by going through these forms over and over they are engraved by sight and sound upon the breath-form and cause passive thinking along the engraved lines. Later active thinking results along the same lines, and with it comes the Light by which the particular truth concealed in the form is seen. After death the lines, made on the breath-form by masonic thinking and masonic thoughts, play an important part in shaping destiny. In the next life on earth a Mason comes under the masonic influences, though he be born under and be claimed by the spirit of a race or of a religion.
The forms of the masonic work are designed to further a discipline of feelings and desires and three minds. The desires are disciplined by thinking which sets bounds to them, and the three minds themselves are disciplined by thinking according to the forms. Only a few subjects are presented in the many masonic forms. These subjects reappear and force themselves upon the attention of a Mason. The forms after a while become suggestive of the subjects for which they stand and so engage mental activity. The discipline results from the regular exercise of the mental activity along the aspects of an inner life which the forms are designed to symbolize.
The forms preserve the secret teachings and in that respect are of inestimable value. The forms are the ancient landmarks of the Order, entrusted to the care of Masons which they are to preserve carefully and are never to suffer to be infringed.
Such are some of the purposes which the masonic play serves. Though what Masons see and hear and say and do has a deep esoteric meaning, they are not affected by that, but delight in the play, the speeches and the social features. Masons seldom, if ever, see the importance of their Order and of its purposes. When they see the inner meanings of their work and begin to live according to their teachings, they will become better men, have a broader and deeper understanding of life, and make the Order of Freemasons a living power for good in the world.
Copyright 1980 by The Word Foundation, Inc.