Albert Gallatin Mackey.

The symbolism of Freemasonry [electronic resource] : illustrating and explaining its science and philosophy, its legends, myths, and symbols online

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Online LibraryAlbert Gallatin MackeyThe symbolism of Freemasonry [electronic resource] : illustrating and explaining its science and philosophy, its legends, myths, and symbols → online text (page 1 of 26)
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its time m&






"Ea enim quss scribuntur tria habere decent, utilitatem prxsentem^
cerium finem, inexpugnabile fund amentum."





Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1869, by

In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of South Carolina.

Stereotyped at the Boston Stereotype Foundry,
No. 19 Spring Lane.




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 kriowledge, this book is dedicated to you
as a slight testimonial of regard for your personal char-
acter, and in grateful recollection of acts of friendship.

Yours very truly,


1 4GP97


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 dog*
mas, which constitute its philosophy, are intrusted for communi-
cation 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 off-
spring 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 cer-
tainty of falsehood in the other, can remove the traditional nar-



rative 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 em-
pires, the discovery and settlement of countries, or the rise and fall
of dynasties, the knowledge of the truth or falsity of the legenda-
ry narrative will be of importance, because the value of history
is impaired by the imputation of doubt. But it is not so in Free-
masonry. 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 ex-
cept their positive use and meaning as developing masonic dog-
mas. 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 signi-
fication ; 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 mat-
ter 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 philosoph-
ical idea.

But there is another method of masonic instruction, and that
is by symbols. No science is more ancient than that of symbol-
ism. At one time, nearly all the learning of the world was con-
veyed 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 de-
rived 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 Free-
masonry, by legends and by symbols, there really is no radi-
cal 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 les-
sons 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 inves-
tigate its philosophy. This is the portal of its temple, through
which alone we can gain access to the sacellum where its apor-
rheta 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 syrrbolism by which these propositions are present-
ed to the mind.

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


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



I. Preliminary. ........ 9

II. The Noachidaz. . . . . . . . .22

III. The Primitive Freemasonry of Antiquity. . . 26

IV. The Spurious Freemasonry of Antiquity. . . 32
V. The Ancient Mysteries. . . . . . . 39

VI. The Dionysiac Artificers. ...... 45

VII. The Union of Speculative and Operative Masonry

at the Temple of Solomon 58

VIII. The Travelling Freemasons of the Middle Ages. 62

IX. Disseverance of the Operative Element. ... 66

X. The System of Symbolic Instruction. . . . 71

XI. The Speculative Science and the Operative Art. . 77

XII. The Symbolism of Solomon' 's Temple. . . 85

XIII. The Form of the Lodge 100

XIV. The Officers of a Lodge 106

XV. The Point -within a Circle in

XVI. The Covering of the Lodge. . . . . 117

XVII. Ritualistic Symbolism 123

XVIII. The Rite of Discalceation 125


XIX. The Rite of Investiture. . . .130

XX. The Symbolism of the Gloves 136

XXI. The Rite of Circtimambulation. .... 142

XXII. The Rite of Intrusting, and the Symbolism of

Light 147

XXIII. Symbolism of the Corner-stone. . . . 159

XXIV. The Ineffable Name. 176

XXV. The Legends of Freemasonry 198

XXVI. The Legend of the Winding Stairs. . . .215

XXVII. The Legend of the Third Degree. ... 228

XXVIII. The Sprig of Acacia 247

XXIX. The Symbolism of Labor 263

XXX. The Stone of Foundation 281

XXXI. The Lost Word. 300





NY 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, in-
dependent, in its inception, of any external influences,
and unconnected with any other institution? These are
questions which an intelligent investigator will be dis-
posed 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

But he who expects to arrive at a satisfactory solution
of this inquiry must first as a preliminary absolutelv


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 outw 7 ard 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. u Prudent antiqui-
ty," 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 sub-
stance. 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 Ma-
sonry these external ceremonies, and you still have re-
maining 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

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. Free-
masonry is a science a philosophy a system of doc-
trines 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 cere-
monies 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 phi-
losophy was maintained and taught. But if we confound
the ceremonies of Masonry with the philosophy of Mason-
ry, 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 impor-
tant modifications have been made in its rituals since that

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 Freema-
sonry 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 eter-
nal future, in like contradiction to the ancient philosophy,
which circumscribed the existence of man to the pres
ent life.

These two doctrines, then, of the unity of God and the


immortality of the soul, constitute the philosophy of Free-
masonry. 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 hu-
manity, 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 di-
rected it in a proper channel. The belief and the wor-
ship, 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 cor-
rupted by the influence of the priests and the poets over
an ignorant and superstitious people. The first and sec-
ond 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 sub-
sidence of the deluge, to be cultivated by the Noachidse,
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 com-
mon ancestor, and fell into the most grievous theological
errors, corrupting the purity of the w r orship and the
orthodoxy of the religious faith which they had prima-
rily 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 por-
tions of the true light.

8. The first class was confined to the direct descend-
ants 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 evi-
dence in the sacred records. As to their existence
among a body of learned heathens, we have the testi-
mony of many intelligent writers who have devoted their
energies to this subject. Thus the learned Grote, in
his u History of Greece," says, " The allegorical inter-
pretation 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 intel-
lectual nation of antiquity.

9. The system or doctrine of the former class has been
called by Masonic writers the " Pure or Primitive Free-
masonry " of antiquity, and that of the latter class the
" Spurious Freemasonry " of the same period. These
terms were first used, if I mistake oot, by Dr. Oliver,
and are intended to refer the word pure to the doc-
trines 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 w T ith 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

11. These errors of the heathen religions were not
the voluntary inventions of the peoples who cultivated
them, but were gradual and almost unavoidable corrup-
tions 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, devi-
ated. 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 gnze.

13. These Mysteries existed in every country of hea-
thendom, in each under a different name, and to some
extent under a different form, but always and everywhere
with the same design of inculcating, by allegorical and


symbolic teachings, the great Masonic doctrines of the
unity of God and the immortality of the soul. This is
an important proposition, and the fact which it enunciates
must never be lost sight of in any inquiry into the origin
of Freemasonry ; for the pagan Mysteries were to the
spurious Freemasonry of antiquity precisely what the
Masters' lodges are to the Freemasonry of the present
day. It is needless to offer any proof of their existence,
since this is admitted and continually referred to by all
historians, ancient and modern ; and to discuss minutely
their character and organization would occupy a distinct
treatise. The Baron de Sainte Croix has written two
large volumes on the subject, and yet left it unexhausted.

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

15. But these two currents w T ere 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 ceremo-
nies, 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 stu-
dents, going no farther back in their investigations than
the facts announced in this I5th proposition, are content
to find the origin of Freemasonry at the temple of Solo-
mon. 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 immor-
tality, which had hitherto been taught by the Noachites
simply as an abstract proposition, was thenceforth to be
inculcated by a symbolic lesson the symbol of Hiram
the Builder was to become forever after the distinctive
feature of Freemasonry.

1 6. But another important modification was effected in
the Masonic system at the building of the temple. Pre-
vious to the union which then took place, the pure Free-



masonry 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 Y)y
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.

1 8. 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 Es-
senes, who wrought as well as prayed, and who are
claimed to have been the descendants of the temple build-
ers, and also, and still more prominently, in the Travelling
Freemasons of the middle ages, who identify themselves
by their very name with their modern successors, and
whose societies were composed of learned men who
thought and wrote, and of workmen who labored and
built. And so for a long time Freemasonry continued to
be both operative and speculative.

19. But another change was to be effected in the insti-
tution to make it precisely what it now is, and, therefore,
at a very recent period (comparatively speaking), the
operative feature was abandoned, and Freemasonry be-
came wholly speculative. The exact time of this change

Online LibraryAlbert Gallatin MackeyThe symbolism of Freemasonry [electronic resource] : illustrating and explaining its science and philosophy, its legends, myths, and symbols → online text (page 1 of 26)