The subject of color in connection with Masonry is one which has received very little attention from students, in the past, but it is nevertheless one which is susceptible to some extremely fascinating speculations.
In Symbolic Masonry we encounter reference to but three, the alternating black and white of the Mosaic pavement denoting the “dual principle;” the pure white of the Lily and the Blue color attributed to the Lodge and the Heavens which it is said to imitate in certain particulars. From the latter consideration we derive various notes of blue in lodge regalia and decorations. The Green of the Acacia, though not dwelt upon, supplies the final note on Immortality.
In Capitular Masonry, the prevailing color is Red and much weight is given to the colors of the four Veils, respectively Scarlet, Blue, Purple and White, which are self-evidently representations of those employed in the Tabernacle and subsequent Temples of Israel. Red is the color of Vulcan, god of Fire, whom the Jews called Tubal-Cain and whose number is 9, or 3 times 3.
If we are willing to accept the theory that in the original intention of the sequence of Masonic degrees, “Symbolic” Masonry was to represent the birth, education or development and final test of the perfected soul, and “Capitular” Masonry to symbolize the return of the liberated soul to the source of its being, we shall have no difficulty, whatsoever, in assimilating the presence of these colors in Lodge and Chapter, as indicated, with the ancient Semitic philosophy, in which Old Testament Theology and, consequently, Masonry, had its rise.
The old Chaldean cosmogony, which impressed the Egyptian, Phoenician and Hebrew cults alike, regarded the Soul as a spark of the Divinity, precipitated to Earth, through the spheres of the Seven planets and the Zones of the Four Elements, gathering in–the course of its journey, its mental, moral and spiritual attributes from the first group and its physical elements from the second.
The Veils of the Temples were clearly symbolical of the elemental Zones. Water, Fire, Air and Earth, in Hebrew respectively Iammim, Your, Rouach and Lebeschah, the initials of which words, “I. N . R. I. ;” having the numerical value of 10, 50, 200, 10 or 270, gave the cabalistic number of incarnation, founded upon the nine months, of thirty days each, of human gestation and which was also the number of the identified Osiris and Horus among the Egyptians; the hypotenuse of a right angle of 162 by 216.
Red stood for the element Fire, Blue for Air, White for Earth, and Purple for Water, the latter, presumably, because purple color was derived from a shell fish, the Murex Purpurea of the Tyrians. Their signs were the Lion, Eagle, Bull and Man of Masonic heraldry. The Egyptians, who manufactured colored glass and must have made experiments with light, observing that red and green produced black, made these three colors representative of the J, V. and H. of their secret Supreme Being, HUHI, who was none other than our mighty Jehovah . Alternating stripes of Red, Black, Green, Black, standing for the Tetragrammaton, being the chief characteristic of the Apron worn by the celebrating Hierophants of the Mysteries of Isis. In their requisitions for Architects to construct their sacred edifices the Hebrews always specified that they be workers in the four symbolic colors and the symbolic metals which also belong to the planetary septenary quoted.
Bezaleel and Aholiab, builders of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, were “filled with wisdom of heart to execute all manner of work of the engraver, and of the designing weaver and of the embroiderer in blue, and in purple and in scarlet yarn and in linen thread.”
The gold, silver and copper employed were respectively sacred to the Sun, Moon and Planet Venus, while the Onyx stone and Shittim or Acacia wood, so lavishly employed, were symbols of the planet Mercury, which, to them, became the “Angel of the Lord,” Raphael.
The celebrated Tyrian Architect, builder of King Solomon’s Temple, is likewise described as skillful to work in gold, in silver, in copper and in iron, in stone, in wood, in purple, in blue, in fine linen and in crimson and also to execute any manner of engraving-again a list of symbolic materials embracing the metals of the Sun, Moon, Venus and Mars, the last two indicative of the physical qualities of Attraction and Repulsion, which engender the Vibration which Science is even now identifying as the great cosmic energy.
Many Egyptian sculptures show the figures of Priests holding before the Monarch or the gods, purifying offerings of Fire and Water, the elements of which it was said the Earth had been created and by which it would be destroyed. If, finally, a most delightful theory may be advanced, we would (in our recognition of the advancement of the ancient Seers in many branches of Art and Science which we have only tardily come to justly credit them with), like to presume that part of the universal adoration of Light as the dwelling place of the Deity and the primordial source of substance employed in material creation, consisted in an appreciation of color, as a property of light.
We are perfectly satisfied, that the seven prismatic colors were recognized in the earliest ages of the civilized World. We know that the ancients were acquainted with the manufacture of glass and that in possession of this latter substance, they could scarcely avoid something which is constantly occurring to the astonishment of children, handling glass or crystal in the sunlight, the production of the colors of the rainbow. Why, then, were four colors only selected for the symbols of Matter and the Veils, representing the Elements by our ancient Brethren? All scientists have heard of Wollaston’s celebrated experiment, performed in 1891 for the purpose of discovering the ultimate composition of light. We quote the language of his paper in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of Great Britain in 1802. He says,
I cannot conclude my observations on the dispersion of light without remarking that the colors, into which a beam of white light is separable by refraction, appear to me to be neither seven, as they are usually seen in the Rainbow, nor reducible by any means, that I can find to three, as some persons have conceived, but that by employing a very narrow pencil of light four primary divisions of the prismatic spectrum may be seen with a degree of distinctness, that I believe has not been described or observed before.
If a beam of daylight be admitted into a dark room by-a crevice, 1-20 of an inch broad, and received by the eye at a distance of ten or twelve feet through a prism of flint glass, free from veins, held near the eye, the beam is seen separated into the four following colors only: Red, a yellowish Green (which might pass as a muddy White), Blue and Violet.” The very diagram employed by Wollaston to illustrate this experiment, a human eye viewing the four ultimate colors through a triangular prism, suggests above all things the notion of the all-seeing eye, in the Triangle, viewing His Creation as a compound of the four elements, only known to and symbolized by ancient science.