The Symbolism of Freemasonry/Chapter XVI
The Covering of the lodge is another, and must be our last reference to this symbolism of the world or the universe. The mere mention of the fact that this covering is figuratively supposed to be "a clouded canopy," or the firmament, on which the host of stars is represented, will be enough to indicate the continued allusion to the symbolism of the world. The lodge, as a representative of the world, is of course supposed to have no other roof than the heavens; and it would scarcely be necessary to enter into any discussion on the subject, were it not that another symbol--the theological ladder--is so intimately connected with it, that the one naturally suggests the other. Now, this mystic ladder, which connects the ground floor of the lodge with its roof or covering, is another important and interesting link, which binds, with one common chain, the symbolism and ceremonies of Freemasonry, and the symbolism and rites of the ancient initiations.
This mystical ladder, which in Masonry is referred to "the theological ladder, which Jacob in his vision saw, reaching from earth to heaven," was widely dispersed among the religions of antiquity, where it was always supposed to consist of seven rounds or steps.
For instance, in the Mysteries of Mithras, in Persia, where there were seven stages or degrees of initiation, there was erected in the temples, or rather caves,--for it was in them that the initiation was conducted,--a high ladder, of seven steps or gates, each of which was dedicated to one of the planets, which was typified by one of the metals, the topmost step representing the sun, so that, beginning at the bottom, we have Saturn represented by lead, Venus by tin, Jupiter by brass, Mercury by iron, Mars by a mixed metal, the Moon by silver, and the Sun by gold, the whole being a symbol of the sidereal progress of the solar orb through the universe.
In the Mysteries of Brahma we find the same reference to the ladder of seven steps; but here the names were different, although there was the same allusion to the symbol of the universe. The seven steps were emblematical of the seven worlds which constituted the Indian universe. The lowest was the Earth; the second, the World of Reexistence; the third, Heaven; the fourth, the Middle World, or intermediate region between the lower and upper worlds; the fifth, the World of Births, in which souls are again born; the sixth, the Mansion of the Blessed; and the seventh, or topmost round, the Sphere of Truth, the abode of Brahma, he himself being but a symbol of the sun, and hence we arrive once more at the masonic symbolism of the universe and the solar orb.
Dr. Oliver thinks that in the Scandinavian Mysteries he has found the mystic ladder in the sacred tree Ydrasil; but here the reference to the septenary division is so imperfect, or at least abstruse, that I am unwilling to press it into our catalogue of coincidences, although there is no doubt that we shall find in this sacred tree the same allusion as in the ladder of Jacob, to an ascent from earth, where its roots were planted, to heaven, where its branches expanded, which ascent being but a change from mortality to immortality, from time to eternity, was the doctrine taught in all the initiations. The ascent of the ladder or of the tree was the ascent from life here to life hereafter--from earth to heaven.
It is unnecessary to carry these parallelisms any farther. Any one can, however, see in them an undoubted reference to that septenary division which so universally prevailed throughout the ancient world, and the influence of which is still felt even in the common day life and observances of our time. Seven was, among the Hebrews, their perfect number; and hence we see it continually recurring in all their sacred rites. The creation was perfected in seven days; seven priests, with seven trumpets, encompassed the walls of Jericho for seven days; Noah received seven days' notice of the commencement of the deluge, and seven persons accompanied him into the ark, which rested on Mount Ararat on the seventh month; Solomon was seven years in building the temple: and there are hundreds of other instances of the prominence of this talismanic number, if there were either time or necessity to cite them.
Among the Gentiles the same number was equally sacred. Pythagoras called it a "venerable number." The septenary division of time into weeks of seven days, although not universal, as has been generally supposed, was sufficiently so to indicate the influence of the number. And it is remarkable, as perhaps in some way referring to the seven-stepped ladder which we have been considering, that in the ancient Mysteries, as Apuleius informs us, the candidate was seven times washed in the consecrated waters of ablution.
There is, then, an anomaly in giving to the mystical ladder of Masonry only three rounds. It is an anomaly, however, with which Masonry has had nothing to do. The error arose from the ignorance of those inventors who first engraved the masonic symbols for our monitors. The ladder of Masonry, like the equipollent ladders of its kindred institutions, always had seven steps, although in modern times the three principal or upper ones are alone alluded to. These rounds, beginning at the lowest, are Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, Justice, Faith, Hope, and Charity. Charity, therefore, takes the same place in the ladder of masonic virtues as the sun does in the ladder of planets. In the ladder of metals we find gold, and in that of colors yellow, occupying the same elevated position. Now, St. Paul explains Charity as signifying, not alms-giving, which is the modern popular meaning, but love--that love which "suffereth long and is kind;" and when, in our lectures on this subject, we speak of it as the greatest of virtues, because, when Faith is lost and Hope has ceased, it extends "beyond the grave to realms of endless bliss," we there refer it to the Divine Love of our Creator. But Portal, in his Essay on Symbolic Colors, informs us that the sun represents Divine Love, and gold indicates the goodness of God.
So that if Charity is equivalent to Divine Love, and Divine Love is represented by the sun, and lastly, if Charity be the topmost round of the masonic ladder, then again we arrive, as the result of our researches, at the symbol so often already repeated of the solar orb. The natural sun or the spiritual sun--the sun, either as the vivifying principle of animated nature, and therefore the special object of adoration, or as the most prominent instrument of the Creator's benevolence--was ever a leading idea in the symbolism of antiquity.
Its prevalence, therefore, in the masonic institution, is a pregnant evidence of the close analogy existing between it and all these systems. How that analogy was first introduced, and how it is to be explained, without detriment to the purity and truthfulness of our own religious character, would involve a long inquiry into the origin of Freemasonry, and the history of its connection with the ancient systems.
These researches might have been extended still farther; enough, however, has been said to establish the following leading principles:--
1. That Freemasonry is, strictly speaking, a science of symbolism.
2. That in this symbolism it bears a striking analogy to the same science, as seen in the mystic rites of the ancient religions.
3. That as in these ancient religions the universe was symbolized to the candidate, and the sun, as its vivifying principle, made the object of his adoration, or at least of his veneration, so, in Masonry, the lodge is made the representative of the world or the universe, and the sun is presented as its most prominent symbol.
4. That this identity of symbolism proves an identity of origin, which identity of origin can be shown to be strictly compatible with the true religious sentiment of Masonry.
5. And fifthly and lastly, that the whole symbolism of Freemasonry has an exclusive reference to what the Kabalists have called the ALGABIL--the Master Builder--him whom Freemasons have designated as the Grand Architect of the Universe.
- Such was the opinion of some of the ancient sun-worshippers, whose adorations were always performed in the open air, because they thought no temple was spacious enough to contain the sun; and hence the saying, "Mundus universus est templum solis"--the universe is the temple of the sun. Like our ancient brethren, they worshipped only on the highest hills. Another analogy.
- Asgard, the abode of the gods, is shaded by the ash tree, Ydrasil, where the gods assemble every day to do justice. The branches of this tree extend themselves over the whole world, and reach above the heavens. It hath three roots, extremely distant from each other: one of them is among the gods; the second is among the giants, where the abyss formerly was; the third covers Niflheim, or hell, and under this root is the fountain Vergelmer, whence flow the infernal rivers.--Edda, Fab. 8.