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“The Symbolism of Freemasonry”
What is Symbolism in Masonry? Is it the rich bodies of philosophical works which adorn our collective histories? Or the majestic works of art that fill our minds with wonders and provoke deeper meaning and thought? Symbolism in Masonry extends to every clime, culture, convergent history and looks with the mind’s eye a search for what is true. As Albert Mackey once put it:
“It must be evident, from all that has been said respecting the analogy in origin and design between the masonic and the ancient religious myths, that no one acquainted with the true science of this subject can, for a moment, contend that all the legends and traditions of the order are, to the very letter, historical facts. All that can be claimed for them is, that in some there is simply a substratum of history, the edifice constructed on this foundation being purely inventive, to serve us a medium for inculcating some religious truth; in others, nothing more than an idea to which the legend or myth is indebted for its existence, and of which it is, as a symbol, the exponent; and in others, again, a great deal of truthful narrative, more or less intermixed with fiction, but the historical always predominating.”
The allegories in Masonry relate moral and social truths which guide and teach the initiated observer in what Mackey teased out of the cold slabs of knowledge hidden within his words. Our collective legends are “philosophical myths” which are an “ingenious method of conveying, symbolically, a masonic truth.” What does this mean? If we take the Hiramic legend or the myth of the Winding Staircase we find that in historic fact these are cleverly designed stories which probably did not occur. However the intelligent Mason sees past the convention and draws the wealth contained within these vehicles. The Winding Staircase myth gives us the portioned and varied liberal arts and sciences needed for our own mental and spiritual growth. Whereas the former explains the strength of fortitude and true meaning of keeping one’s word.
I leave you my brethren with the words of Mackey who like Shakespeare could draw upon that self-evident truth which lies on the tips of men tongues but eludes them like careless flickers of light in the depth of the dark. His brilliant words on the Symbolism of Masonry:
“Without its symbols, and its myths or legends, and the ideas and conceptions which lie at the bottom of them, the time, the labor, and the expense incurred in perpetuating the institution, would be thrown away. Without them, it would be a “vain and empty show.” Its grips and signs are worth nothing, except for social purposes, as mere means of recognition. So, too, would be its words, were it not that they are, for the most part, symbolic. Its social habits and its charities are but incidental points in its constitution–of themselves good, it is true, but capable of being attained in a simpler way. Its true value, as a science, consists in its symbolism–in the great lessons of divine truth which it teaches, and in the admirable manner in which it accomplishes that teaching. Every one, therefore, who desires to be a skillful Mason, must not suppose that the task is accomplished by a perfect knowledge of the mere phraseology of the ritual, by a readiness in opening and closing a lodge, nor by an off-hand capacity to confer degrees. All these are good in their places, but without the internal meaning they are but mere child’s play. He must study the myths, the traditions, and the symbols of the order, and learn their true interpretation; for this alone constitutes the science and the philosophy–the end, aim, and design of Speculative Masonry.”
S & F,