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[Transcriber's Notes: Footnotes have been renumbered and moved to the end
of the work.]

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
South Carolina.

To General John C. Fremont.

My Dear Sir:

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

Yours very truly,

A. G. Mackey.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Synoptical Index.



The Origin and Progress of Freemasonry.

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

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

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

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

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