The Symbolism of Freemasonry/Chapter XVII

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The Symbolism of Freemasonry by Albert Mackey
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVII.
Ritualistic Symbolism.

We have hitherto been engaged in the consideration of these simple symbols, which appear to express one single and independent idea. They have sometimes been called the "alphabet of Freemasonry," but improperly, I think, since the letters of the alphabet have, in themselves, unlike these masonic symbols, no significance, but are simply the component parts of words, themselves the representatives of ideas.

These masonic symbols rather may be compared to the elementary characters of the Chinese language, each of which denotes an idea; or, still better, to the hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptians, in which one object was represented in full by another which bore some subjective relation to it, as the wind was represented by the wings of a bird, or courage by the head and shoulders of a lion.

It is in the same way that in Masonry the plumb represents rectitude, the level, human equality, and the trowel, concord or harmony. Each is, in itself, independent, each expresses a single elementary idea.

But we now arrive at a higher division of masonic symbolism, which, passing beyond these tangible symbols, brings us to those which are of a more abstruse nature, and which, as being developed in a ceremonial form, controlled and directed by the ritual of the order, may be designated as the ritualistic symbolism of Freemasonry.

It is to this higher division that I now invite attention; and for the purpose of exemplifying the definition that I have given, I shall select a few of the most prominent and interesting ceremonies of the ritual.

Our first researches were into the symbolism of objects; our next will be into the symbolism of ceremonies.

In the explanations which I shall venture to give of this ritualistic symbolism, or the symbolism of ceremonies, a reference will constantly be made to what has so often already been alluded to, namely, to the analogy existing between the system of Freemasonry and the ancient rites and Mysteries, and hence we will again develop the identity of their origin.

Each of the degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry contains some of these ritualistic symbols: the lessons of the whole order are, indeed, veiled in their allegoric clothing; but it is only to the most important that I can find opportunity to refer. Such, among others, are the rites of discalceation, of investiture, of circumambulation, and of intrusting. Each of these will furnish an appropriate subject for consideration.