The Symbolism of Freemasonry/Chapter XIII

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The Symbolism of Freemasonry by Albert Mackey
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIII.
The Form of the Lodge.

In the last essay, I treated of that symbolism of the masonic system which makes the temple of Jerusalem the archetype of a lodge, and in which, in consequence, all the symbols are referred to the connection of a speculative science with an operative art. I propose in the present to discourse of a higher and abstruser mode of symbolism; and it may be observed that, in coming to this topic, we arrive, for the first time, at that chain of resemblances which unites Freemasonry with the ancient systems of religion, and which has given rise, among masonic writers, to the names of Pure and Spurious Freemasonry--the pure Freemasonry being that system of philosophical religion which, coming through the line of the patriarchs, was eventually modified by influences exerted at the building of King Solomon's temple, and the spurious being the same system as it was altered and corrupted by the polytheism of the nations of heathendom.[1]

As this abstruser mode of symbolism, if less peculiar to the masonic system, is, however, far more interesting than the one which was treated in the previous essay,--because it is more philosophical,--I propose to give an extended investigation of its character. And, in the first place, there is what may be called an elementary view of this abstruser symbolism, which seems almost to be a corollary from what has already been described in the preceding article.

As each individual mason has been supposed to be the symbol of a spiritual temple,--"a temple not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,"--the lodge or collected assemblage of these masons, is adopted as a symbol of the world.[2]

It is in the first degree of Masonry, more particularly, that this species of symbolism is developed. In its detail it derives the characteristics of resemblance upon which it is founded, from the form, the supports, the ornaments, and general construction and internal organization of a lodge, in all of which the symbolic reference to the world is beautifully and consistently sustained.

The form of a masonic lodge is said to be a parallelogram, or oblong square; its greatest length being from east to west, its breadth from north to south. A square, a circle, a triangle, or any other form but that of an oblong square, would be eminently incorrect and unmasonic, because such a figure would not be an expression of the symbolic idea which is intended to be conveyed.

Now, as the world is a globe, or, to speak more accurately, an oblate spheroid, the attempt to make an oblong square its symbol would seem, at first view, to present insuperable difficulties. But the system of masonic symbolism has stood the test of too long an experience to be easily found at fault; and therefore this very symbol furnishes a striking evidence of the antiquity of the order. At the Solomonic era--the era of the building of the temple at Jerusalem--the world, it must be remembered, was supposed to have that very oblong form,[3] which has been here symbolized. If, for instance, on a map of the world we should inscribe an oblong figure whose boundary lines would circumscribe and include just that portion which was known to be inhabited in the clays of Solomon, these lines, running a short distance north and south of the Mediterranean Sea, and extending from Spain in the west to Asia Minor in the east, would form an oblong square, including the southern shore of Europe, the northern shore of Africa, and the western district of Asia, the length of the parallelogram being about sixty degrees from east to west, and its breadth being about twenty degrees from north to south. This oblong square, thus enclosing the whole of what was then supposed to be the habitable globe,[4] would precisely represent what is symbolically said to be the form of the lodge, while the Pillars of Hercules in the west, on each side of the straits of Gades or Gibraltar, might appropriately be referred to the two pillars that stood at the porch of the temple.

A masonic lodge is, therefore, a symbol of the world.

This symbol is sometimes, by a very usual figure of speech, extended, in its application, and the world and the universe are made synonymous, when the lodge becomes, of course, a symbol of the universe. But in this case the definition of the symbol is extended, and to the ideas of length and breadth are added those of height and depth, and the lodge is said to assume the form of a double cube.[5] The solid contents of the earth below and the expanse of the heavens above will then give the outlines of the cube, and the whole created universe[6] will be included within the symbolic limits of a mason's lodge.

By always remembering that the lodge is the symbol, in its form and extent, of the world, we are enabled, readily and rationally, to explain many other symbols, attached principally to the first degree; and we are enabled to collate and compare them with similar symbols of other kindred institutions of antiquity, for it should be observed that this symbolism of the world, represented by a place of initiation, widely pervaded all the ancient rites and mysteries.

It will, no doubt, be interesting to extend our investigations on this subject, with a particular view to the method in which this symbolism of the world or the universe was developed, in some of its most prominent details; and for this purpose I shall select the mystical explanation of the officers of a lodge, its covering, and a portion of its ornaments.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Dr. Oliver, in the first or preliminary lecture of his "Historical Landmarks," very accurately describes the difference between the pure or primitive Freemasonry of the Noachites, and the spurious Freemasonry of the heathens.
  2. The idea of the world, as symbolically representing God's temple, has been thus beautifully developed in a hymn by N.P. Willis, written for the dedication of a church:--

    "The perfect world by Adam trod
    Was the first temple built by God;
    His fiat laid the corner stone,
    And heaved its pillars, one by one.

    "He hung its starry roof on high--
    The broad, illimitable sky;
    He spread its pavement, green and bright,
    And curtained it with morning light.

    "The mountains in their places stood,
    The sea, the sky, and 'all was good;'
    And when its first pure praises rang,
    The 'morning stars together sang.'

    "Lord, 'tis not ours to make the sea,
    And earth, and sky, a house for thee;
    But in thy sight our offering stands,
    A humbler temple, made with hands."

  3. "The idea," says Dudley, "that the earth is a level surface, and of a square form, is so likely to have been entertained by persons of little experience and limited observation, that it may be justly supposed to have prevailed generally in the early ages of the world."--Naology, p. 7.
  4. The quadrangular form of the earth is preserved in almost all the scriptural allusions that are made to it. Thus Isaiah (xi. 12) says, "The Lord shall gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth;" and we find in the Apocalypse (xx. 9) the prophetic version of "four angels standing on the four corners of the earth."
  5. "The form of the lodge ought to be a double cube, as an expressive emblem of the powers of darkness and light in the creation."--OLIVER, Landmarks, i. p. 135, note 37.
  6. Not that whole visible universe, in its modern signification, as including solar systems upon solar systems, rolling in illimitable space, but in the more contracted view of the ancients, where the earth formed the floor, and the sky the ceiling. "To the vulgar and untaught eye," says Dudley, "the heaven or sky above the earth appears to be co-extensive with the earth, and to take the same form, enclosing a cubical space, of which the earth was the base, the heaven or sky the upper surface."--Naology, 7.--And it is to this notion of the universe that the masonic symbol of the lodge refers.