The Symbolism of Freemasonry/Chapter XXII

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The Symbolism of Freemasonry by Albert Mackey
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXII.
The Rite of Intrusting, and the Symbolism of Light.

The rite of intrusting, to which we are now to direct our attention, will supply us with many important and interesting symbols.

There is an important period in the ceremony of masonic initiation, when the candidate is about to receive a full communication of the mysteries through which he has passed, and to which the trials and labors which he has undergone can only entitle him. This ceremony is technically called the "rite of intrusting," because it is then that the aspirant begins to be intrusted with that for the possession of which he was seeking.[1] It is equivalent to what, in the ancient Mysteries, was called the "autopsy,"[2] or the seeing of what only the initiated were permitted to behold.

This _rite of intrusting_ is, of course, divided into several parts or periods; for the aporreta, or secret things of Masonry, are not to be given at once, but in gradual progression. It begins, however, with the communication of LIGHT, which, although but a preparation for the development of the mysteries which are to follow, must be considered as one of the most important symbols in the whole science of masonic symbolism. So important, indeed, is it, and so much does it pervade with its influence and its relations the whole masonic system, that Freemasonry itself anciently received, among other appellations, that of Lux, or Light, to signify that it is to be regarded as that sublime doctrine of Divine Truth by which the path of him who has attained it is to be illuminated in his pilgrimage of life.

The Hebrew cosmogonist commences his description of the creation by the declaration that "God said, Let there be light, and there was light"--a phrase which, in the more emphatic form that it has received in the original language of "Be light, and light was,"[3] is said to have won the praise, for its sublimity, of the greatest of Grecian critics. "The singularly emphatic summons," says a profound modern writer,[4] "by which light is called into existence, is probably owing to the preëminent utility and glory of that element, together with its mysterious nature, which made it seem as

'The God of this new world,'

and won for it the earliest adoration of mankind."

Light was, in accordance with this old religious sentiment, the great object of attainment in all the ancient religious Mysteries. It was there, as it is now, in Masonry, made the symbol of truth and knowledge. This was always its ancient symbolism, and we must never lose sight of this emblematic meaning, when we are considering the nature and signification of masonic light. When the candidate makes a demand for light, it is not merely for that material light which is to remove a physical darkness; that is only the outward form, which conceals the inward symbolism. He craves an intellectual illumination which will dispel the darkness of mental and moral ignorance, and bring to his view, as an eye-witness, the sublime truths of religion, philosophy, and science, which it is the great design of Freemasonry to teach.

In all the ancient systems this reverence for light, as the symbol of truth, was predominant. In the Mysteries of every nation, the candidate was made to pass, during his initiation, through scenes of utter darkness, and at length terminated his trials by an admission to the splendidly-illuminated sacellum, or sanctuary, where he was said to have attained pure and perfect light, and where he received the necessary instructions which were to invest him with that knowledge of the divine truth which it had been the object of all his labors to gain, and the design of the institution, into which he had been initiated, to bestow.

Light, therefore, became synonymous with truth and knowledge, and darkness with falsehood and ignorance. We shall find this symbolism pervading not only the institutions, but the very languages, of antiquity.

Thus, among the Hebrews, the word AUR, in the singular, signified light, but in the plural, AURIM, it denoted the revelation of the divine will; and the aurim and thummim, literally the lights and truths, constituted a part of the breastplate whence the high priest obtained oracular responses to the questions which he proposed.[5]

There is a peculiarity about the word "light," in the old Egyptian language, which is well worth consideration in this connection. Among the Egyptians, the hare was the hieroglyphic of eyes that are open; and it was adopted because that timid animal was supposed never to close his organs of vision, being always on the watch for his enemies. The hare was afterwards adopted by the priests as a symbol of the mental illumination or mystic light which was revealed to the neophytes, in the contemplation of divine truth, during the progress of their initiation; and hence, according to Champollion, the hare was also the symbol of Osiris, their chief god; thus showing the intimate connection which they believed to exist between the process of initiation into their sacred rites and the contemplation of the divine nature. But the Hebrew word for hare is ARNaBeT. Now, this is compounded of the two words AUR, light, and NaBaT, to behold, and therefore the word which in the Egyptian denoted initiation, in the Hebrew signified to behold the light. In two nations so intimately connected in history as the Hebrew and the Egyptian, such a coincidence could not have been accidental. It shows the prevalence of the sentiment, at that period, that the communication of light was the prominent design of the Mysteries--so prominent that the one was made the synonyme of the other.[6]

The worship of light, either in its pure essence or in the forms of sun-worship and fire-worship, because the sun and the fire were causes of light, was among the earliest and most universal superstitions of the world. Light was considered as the primordial source of all that was holy and intelligent; and darkness, as its opposite, was viewed as but another name for evil and ignorance. Dr. Beard, in an article on this subject, in Kitto's Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature, attributes this view of the divine nature of light, which was entertained by the nations of the East, to the fact that, in that part of the world, light "has a clearness and brilliancy, is accompanied by an intensity of heat, and is followed in its influence by a largeness of good, of which the inhabitants of less genial climates have no conception. Light easily and naturally became, in consequence, with Orientals, a representative of the highest human good. All the more joyous emotions of the mind, all the pleasing sensations of the frame, all the happy hours of domestic intercourse, were described under imagery derived from light. The transition was natural--from earthly to heavenly, from corporeal to spiritual things; and so light came to typify true religion and the felicity which it imparts. But as light not only came from God, but also makes man's way clear before him, so it was employed to signify moral truth, and preëminently that divine system of truth which is set forth in the Bible, from its earliest gleamings onward to the perfect day of the Great Sun of Righteousness."

I am inclined to believe that in this passage the learned author has erred, not in the definition of the symbol, but in his deduction of its origin. Light became the object of religious veneration, not because of the brilliancy and clearness of a particular sky, nor the warmth and genial influence of a particular climate,--for the worship was universal, in Scandinavia as in India,--but because it was the natural and inevitable result of the worship of the sun, the chief deity of Sabianism--a faith which pervaded to an extraordinary extent the whole religious sentiment of antiquity.[7]

Light was venerated because it was an emanation from the sun, and, in the materialism of the ancient faith, light and darkness were both personified as positive existences, the one being the enemy of the other. Two principles were thus supposed to reign over the world, antagonistic to each other, and each alternately presiding over the destinies of mankind.[8]

The contests between the good and evil principle, symbolized by light and darkness, composed a very large part of the ancient mythology in all countries.

Among the Egyptians, Osiris was light, or the sun; and his arch-enemy, Typhon, who ultimately destroyed him, was the representative of darkness.

Zoroaster, the father of the ancient Persian religion, taught the same doctrine, and called the principle of light, or good, Ormuzd, and the principle of darkness, or evil, Ahriman. The former, born of the purest light, and the latter, sprung from utter darkness, are, in this mythology, continually making war on each other.

Manes, or Manichaeus, the founder of the sect of Manichees, in the third century, taught that there are two principles from which all things proceed; the one is a pure and subtile matter, called Light, and the other a gross and corrupt substance, called Darkness. Each of these is subject to the dominion of a superintending being, whose existence is from all eternity. The being who presides over the light is called God; he that rules over the darkness is called Hyle, or Demon. The ruler of the light is supremely happy, good, and benevolent, while the ruler over darkness is unhappy, evil, and malignant.

Pythagoras also maintained this doctrine of two antagonistic principles. He called the one, unity, light, the right hand, equality, stability, and a straight line; the other he named binary, darkness, the left hand, inequality, instability, and a curved line. Of the colors, he attributed white to the good principle, and black to the evil one.

The Cabalists gave a prominent place to light in their system of cosmogony. They taught that, before the creation of the world, all space was filled with what they called Aur en soph, or the Eternal Light, and that when the Divine Mind determined or willed the production of Nature, the Eternal Light withdrew to a central point, leaving around it an empty space, in which the process of creation went on by means of emanations from the central mass of light. It is unnecessary to enter into the Cabalistic account of creation; it is sufficient here to remark that all was done through the mediate influence of the Aur en soph, or eternal light, which produces coarse matter, but one degree above nonentity, only when it becomes so attenuated as to be lost in darkness.

The Brahminical doctrine was, that "light and darkness are esteemed the world's eternal ways; he who walketh in the former returneth not; that is to say, he goeth to eternal bliss; whilst he who walketh in the latter cometh back again upon earth," and is thus destined to pass through further transmigrations, until his soul is perfectly purified by light.[9]

In all the ancient systems of initiation the candidate was shrouded in darkness, as a preparation for the reception of light. The duration varied in the different rites. In the Celtic Mysteries of Druidism, the period in which the aspirant was immersed in darkness was nine days and nights; among the Greeks, at Eleusis, it was three times as long; and in the still severer rites of Mithras, in Persia, fifty days of darkness, solitude, and fasting were imposed upon the adventurous neophyte, who, by these excessive trials, was at length entitled to the full communication of the light of knowledge.

Thus it will be perceived that the religious sentiment of a good and an evil principle gave to darkness, in the ancient symbolism, a place equally as prominent as that of light.

The same religious sentiment of the ancients, modified, however, in its details, by our better knowledge of divine things, has supplied Freemasonry with a double symbolism--that of Light and Darkness.

Darkness is the symbol of initiation. It is intended to remind the candidate of his ignorance, which Masonry is to enlighten; of his evil nature, which Masonry is to purify; of the world, in whose obscurity he has been wandering, and from which Masonry is to rescue him.

Light, on the other hand, is the symbol of the autopsy, the sight of the mysteries, the intrusting, the full fruition of masonic truth and knowledge.

Initiation precedes the communication of knowledge in Masonry, as darkness preceded light in the old cosmogonies. Thus, in Genesis, we see that in the beginning "the world was without form, and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep." The Chaldean cosmogony taught that in the beginning "all was darkness and water." The Phoenicians supposed that "the beginning of all things was a wind of black air, and a chaos dark as Erebus."[10]

But out of all this darkness sprang forth light, at the divine command, and the sublime phrase, "Let there be light," is repeated, in some substantially identical form, in all the ancient histories of creation.

So, too, out of the mysterious darkness of Masonry comes the full blaze of masonic light. One must precede the other, as the evening preceded the morning. "So the evening and the morning were the first day."

This thought is preserved in the great motto of the Order, "_Lux e tenebris_"--Light out of darkness. It is equivalent to this other sentence: Truth out of initiation. Lux, or light, is truth; tenebrae, or darkness, is initiation.

It is a beautiful and instructive portion of our symbolism, this connection of darkness and light, and well deserves a further investigation.

"Genesis and the cosmogonies," says Portal, "mention the antagonism of light and darkness. The form of this fable varies according to each nation, but the foundation is everywhere the same. Under the symbol of the creation of the world it presents the picture of regeneration and initiation."[11]

Plutarch says that to die is to be initiated into the greater Mysteries; and the Greek word [Greek: teleuta~|n], which signifies to die, means also to be initiated. But black, which is the symbolic color of darkness, is also the symbol of death. And hence, again, darkness, like death, is the symbol of initiation. It was for this reason that all the ancient initiations were performed at night. The celebration of the Mysteries was always nocturnal. The same custom prevails in Freemasonry, and the explanation is the same. Death and the resurrection were taught in the Mysteries, as they are in Freemasonry. The initiation was the lesson of death. The full fruition or autopsy, the reception of light, was the lesson of regeneration or resurrection.

Light is, therefore, a fundamental symbol in Freemasonry. It is, in fact, the first important symbol that is presented to the neophyte in his instructions, and contains within itself the very essence of Speculative Masonry, which is nothing more than the contemplation of intellectual light or truth.[12]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Dr. Oliver, referring to the "twelve grand points in Masonry," which formed a part of the old English lectures, says, "When the candidate was intrusted, he represented Asher, for he was then presented with the glorious fruit of masonic knowledge, as Asher was represented by fatness and royal dainties."--Hist. Landm., vol. i. lect. xi. p. 313.
  2. From the Greek [Greek: ay)topsi/a], signifying a seeing with one's own eyes. The candidate, who had previously been called a mystes, or a blind man, from [Greek: mi/ô], to shut the eyes, began at this point to change his title to that of an epopt, or an eye-witness.
  3. Yehi aur va yehi aur.
  4. Robert William Mackay, Progress of the Intellect, vol. i. p. 93.
  5. "And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim."--Exod. xxviii. 30.--The Egyptian judges also wore breastplates, on which was represented the figure of Ra, the sun, and Thme, the goddess of Truth, representing, says Gliddon, "Ra, or the sun, in a double capacity--physical and intellectual light; and Thme, in a double capacity--justice and truth."--Ancient Egypt, p. 33.
  6. We owe this interesting discovery to F. Portal, who has given it in his elaborate work on Egyptian symbols as compared with those of the Hebrews. To those who cannot consult the original work in French, I can safely recommend the excellent translation by my esteemed friend, Bro. John W. Simons, of New York, and which will be found in the thirtieth volume of the "Universal Masonic Library."
  7. "The most early defection to Idolatry," says Bryant, "consisted in the adoration of the sun and the worship of demons, styled Baalim."--Analysts of Anc. Mythol. vol. iii. p. 431.
  8. The remarks of Mr. Duncan on this subject are well worth perusal. "Light has always formed one of the primary objects of heathen adoration. The glorious spectacle of animated nature would lose all its interest if man were deprived of vision, and light extinguished; for that which is unseen and unknown becomes, for all practical purposes, as valueless as if it were non-existent. Light is a source of positive happiness; without it, man could barely exist; and since all religious opinion is based on the ideas of pleasure and pain, and the corresponding sensations of hope and fear, it is not to be wondered if the heathen reverenced light. Darkness, on the contrary, by replunging nature, as it were, into a state of nothingness, and depriving man of the pleasurable emotions conveyed through the organ of sight, was ever held in abhorrence, as a source of misery and fear. The two opposite conditions in which man thus found himself placed, occasioned by the enjoyment or the banishment of light, induced him to imagine the existence of two antagonist principles in nature, to whose dominion he was alternately subject. Light multiplied his enjoyments, and darkness diminished them. The former, accordingly, became his friend, and the latter his enemy. The words 'light' and 'good,' and 'darkness' and 'evil,' conveyed similar ideas, and became, in sacred language, synonymous terms. But as good and evil were not supposed to flow from one and the same source, no more than light and darkness were supposed to have a common origin, two distinct and independent principles were established, totally different in their nature, of opposite characters, pursuing a conflicting line of action, and creating antagonistic effects. Such was the origin of this famous dogma, recognized by all the heathens, and incorporated with all the sacred fables, cosmogonies, and mysteries of antiquity."--The Religions of Profane Antiquity, p. 186.
  9. See the "Bhagvat Geeta," one of the religious books of Brahminism. A writer in Blackwood, in an article on the "Castes and Creeds of India," vol. lxxxi. p. 316, thus accounts for the adoration of light by the early nations of the world: "Can we wonder at the worship of light by those early nations? Carry our thoughts back to their remote times, and our only wonder would be if they did not so adore it. The sun is life as well as light to all that is on the earth--as we of the present day know even better than they of old. Moving in dazzling radiance or brilliant-hued pageantry through the sky, scanning in calm royalty all that passes below, it seems the very god of this fair world, which lives and blooms but in his smile."
  10. The Institutes of Menu, which are the acknowledged code of the Brahmins, inform us that "the world was all darkness, undiscernible, undistinguishable altogether, as in a profound sleep, till the self-existent, invisible God, making it manifest with five elements and other glorious forms, perfectly dispelled the gloom."--Sir WILLIAM JONES, On the Gods of Greece. Asiatic Researches, i. 244.
    Among the Rosicrucians, who have, by some, been improperly confounded with the Freemasons, the word lux was used to signify a knowledge of the philosopher's stone, or the great desideratum of a universal elixir and a universal menstruum. This was their truth.
  11. On Symbolic Colors, p. 23, Inman's translation.
  12. Freemasonry having received the name of lux, or light, its disciples have, very appropriately, been called "the Sons of Light." Thus Burns, in his celebrated Farewell:--

    "Oft have I met your social band,
    And spent the cheerful, festive night;
    Oft, honored with supreme command,
    Presided o'er the _sons of light_."