The Symbolism of Freemasonry/Chapter XIV

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The Symbolism of Freemasonry by Albert Mackey
Chapter XIV
Chapter XIV.
The Officers of a Lodge.

The Three Principal Officers of a lodge are, it is needless to say, situated in the east, the west, and the south. Now, bearing in mind that the lodge is a symbol of the world, or the universe, the reference of these three officers to the sun at its rising, its setting, and its meridian height, must at once suggest itself.

This is the first development of the symbol, and a very brief inquiry will furnish ample evidence of its antiquity and its universality.

In the Brahminical initiations of Hindostan, which are among the earliest that have been transmitted to us, and may almost be considered as the cradle of all the others of subsequent ages and various countries, the ceremonies were performed in vast caverns, the remains of some of which, at Salsette, Elephanta, and a few other places, will give the spectator but a very inadequate idea of the extent and splendor of these ancient Indian lodges.[1] More imperfect remains than these are still to be found in great numbers throughout Hindostan and Cashmere. Their form was sometimes that of a cross, emblematic of the four elements of which the earth is composed,--fire, water, air, and earth,--but more generally an oval, as a representation of the mundane egg, which, in the ancient systems, was a symbol of the world.[2]

The interior of the cavern of initiation was lighted by innumerable lamps, and there sat in the east, the west, and the south the principal Hierophants, or explainers of the Mysteries, as the representatives of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. Now, Brahma was the supreme deity of the Hindoos, borrowed or derived from the Sun-god of their Sabean ancestors, and Vishnu and Siva were but manifestations of his attributes. We learn from the Indian Pantheon that "when the sun rises in the east, he is Brahma; when he gains his meridian in the south, he is Siva; and when he sets in the west, he is Vishnu."

Again, in the Zoroasteric mysteries of Persia, the temple of initiation was circular, being made so to represent the universe; and the sun in the east, with the surrounding zodiac, formed an indispensable part of the ceremony of reception.[3]

In the Egyptian mysteries of Osiris, the same reference to the sun is contained, and Herodotus, who was himself an initiate, intimates that the ceremonies consisted in the representation of a Sun-god, who had been incarnate, that is, had appeared upon earth, or rose, and who was at length put to death by Typhon, the symbol of darkness, typical of the sun's setting.

In the great mysteries of Eleusis,[4] which were celebrated at Athens, we learn from St. Chrysostom, as well as other authorities, that the temple of initiation was symbolic of the universe, and we know that one of the officers represented the sun.[5]

In the Celtic mysteries of the Druids, the temple of initiation was either oval, to represent the mundane egg--a symbol, as has already been said, of the world; or circular, because the circle was a symbol of the universe; or cruciform, in allusion to the four elements, or constituents of the universe. In the Island of Lewis, in Scotland, there is one combining the cruciform and circular form. There is a circle, consisting of twelve stones, while three more are placed in the east, and as many in the west and south, and thirty-eight, in two parallel lines, in the north, forming an avenue to the circular temple. In the centre of the circle is the image of the god. In the initiations into these rites, the solar deity performed an important part, and the celebrations commenced at daybreak, when the sun was hailed on his appearance above the horizon as "the god of victory, the king who rises in light and ascends the sky."

But I need not multiply these instances of sun-worship. Every country and religion of the ancient world would afford one.[6] Sufficient has been cited to show the complete coincidence, in reference to the sun, between the symbolism of Freemasonry and that of the ancient rites and Mysteries, and to suggest for them a common origin, the sun being always in the former system, from the earliest times of the primitive or patriarchal Masonry, considered simply as a manifestation of the Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty of the Divine Architect, visibly represented by the position of the three principal officers of a lodge, while by the latter, in their degeneration from, and corruption of the true Noachic faith, it was adopted as the special object of adoration.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. "These rocky shrines, the formation of which Mr. Grose supposes to have been a labor equal to that of erecting the Pyramids of Egypt, are of various height, extent, and depth. They are partitioned out, by the labor of the hammer and the chisel, into many separate chambers, and the roof, which in the pagoda of Elephanta is flat, but in that of Salsette is arched, is supported by rows of pillars of great thickness, and arranged with much regularity. The walls are crowded with gigantic figures of men and women, engaged in various actions, and portrayed in various whimsical attitudes; and they are adorned with several evident symbols of the religion now prevailing in India. Above, as in a sky, once probably adorned with gold and azure, in the same manner as Mr. Savary lately observed in the ruinous remains of some ancient Egyptian temples, are seen floating the children of imagination, genii and dewtahs, in multitudes, and along the cornice, in high relief, are the figures of elephants, horses, and lions, executed with great accuracy. Two of the principal figures at Salsette are twenty-seven feet in height, and of proportionate magnitude; the very bust only of the triple-headed deity in the grand pagoda of Elephanta measures fifteen feet from the base to the top of the cap, while the face of another, if Mr. Grose, who measured it, may be credited, is above five feet in length, and of corresponding breadth."--MAURICE, Ind. Ant. vol. ii. p. 135.
  2. According to Faber, the egg was a symbol of the world or megacosm, and also of the ark, or microcosm, as the lunette or crescent was a symbol of the Great Father, the egg and lunette--which was the hieroglyphic of the god Lunus, at Heliopolis--was a symbol of the world proceeding from the Great Father.--Pagan Idolatry, vol. i. b. i. ch. iv.
  3. Zoroaster taught that the sun was the most perfect fire of God, the throne of his glory, and the residence of his divine presence, and he therefore instructed his disciples "to direct all their worship to God first towards the sun (which they called Mithras), and next towards their sacred fires, as being the things in which God chiefly dwelt; and their ordinary way of worship was to do so towards both. For when they came before these fires to worship, they always approached them on the west side, that, having their faces towards them and also towards the rising sun at the same time, they might direct their worship to both. And in this posture they always performed every act of their worship."--PRIDEAUX. Connection. i. 216.
  4. "The mysteries of Ceres (or Eleusis) are principally distinguished from all others as having been the depositories of certain traditions coeval with the world."--OUVAROFF, Essay on the Mysteries of Eleusis, p. 6.
  5. The dadouchus, or torch-bearer, carried a symbol of the sun.
  6. "Indeed, the most ancient superstition of all nations," says Maurice, "has been the worship of the sun, as the lord of heaven and the governor of the world; and in particular it prevailed in Phoenicia, Chaldaea, Egypt, and from later information we may add, Peru and Mexico, represented in a variety of ways, and concealed under a multitude of fanciful names. Through all the revolutions of time the great luminary of heaven hath exacted from the generations of men the tribute of devotion."--Indian Antiquities, vol. ii. p. 91.