In this installment of the Symbols and Symbolism of Freemasonry, we consider a vital emblem of Freemasonry, the compass or compasses. Albert G. Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, gives context to this meaning of this mysterious symbols meaning and history. Mackey, writes:
As in Operative Freemasonry, the compasses are used for the measurement of the architect’s plans, and to enable him to give those just proportions which will ensure beauty as well as stability to his work; so, in Speculative Freemasonry, is this important implement symbolic of that even tenor of deportment, that true standard of rectitude which alone can bestow happiness here and felicity hereafter.
Hence are the compasses the most prominent emblem of virtue, the true and only, measure of a Freemason’s life and conduct. As the Bible gives us light on our duties to God, and the square illustrates our duties to our neighborhood and Brother, so the compasses give that additional light which is to instruct us in the duty we owe to ourselves-the great, imperative duty of circumscribing our passions, and keeping our desires within due bounds. “It is ordained,” says the philosophic Edmund Burke, “in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate passions cannot be free; their passions forge their fetters.”
Those Brethren who delight to trace our emblems to an astronomical origin, find in the compasses a symbol of the sun, the circular pivot representing the body of the luminary, and the diverging legs his rays.
In the earliest rituals of the eighteenth century, the compasses are described as a part of the furniture of the Lodge and are said to belong to the Master.
Some change will be found in this respect in the ritual of the present day.
The word is sometimes spelled and pronounced compass, which is more usually applied to the magnetic needle and circular dial or card of the mariner from which he directs his course over the seas, or the similar guide of the airman when seeking his destination across unknown territory.
Of the spheres and heavens
Pike, in Morals and Dogma, defines the compass as an emblem that describes circles, and deals with spherical trigonometry, the science of the spheres and heavens. The former, therefore, is an emblem of what concerns the earth and the body; the latter of what concerns the heavens and the soul. Yet the Compass is also used in plane trigonometry, as in erecting perpendiculars; and, therefore, you are reminded that, although in this degree both points of the Compass are under the Square, and you are now dealing only with the moral and political meaning of the symbols, and not with their philosophical and spiritual meanings, still the divine ever mingles with the human; with the earthly the spiritual intermixes; and there is something spiritual in the commonest duties of life.
Raised to a Master Mason in 1908, at Harmony Lodge No. 17 in Washington, DC, Carl H. Claudy served as the Master and eventually as Grand Master of Masons in 1943. He served as the executive secretary of the Masonic Service Association in 1929 holding the position until his death in 1957 claiming authorship of nearly 350 Short Talk Bulletins.
The MSANA says of the plays:
[They] are not merely a means by which a lodge may entertain, but attempt to satisfy a desire to understand the inner content of Freemasonry. They accomplish this purpose by drawing aside the veils of ritual, allegory and symbol that the truth behind may shine through.
In this final installment of the Faith Hope and Charity series, we consider the symbolism of charity, or perhaps better called love. It is this attribute that allows the fraternity to “find in every clime a brother, and in every land a home,” the subtext of which Mackey defines in his text from his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry.
Charity in Freemasonry
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” (1 Corinth. xiii. 1, 2.)
Such was the language of an eminent apostle of the Christian church, and such is the sentiment that constitutes the cementing bond of Freemasonry.
The apostle in comparing it with faith and hope calls it the greatest of the three, and hence in Masonry, it is made the top most round of its mystic ladder. We must not fall into the too common error that charity is only that sentiment of commiseration which leads us to assist the poor with pecuniary donations. Its Masonic, as well as its Christian application, is more noble and more extensive. The word used by the apostle is, in the original, αγάπη (agápi – agapi) or love — a word denoting that kindly state of mind which renders a person full of goodwill and affectionate regard toward others. John Wesley expressed his regret that the Greek had not been correctly translated as love instead of charity, so that the apostolic triad of virtues would have been, not “faith, hope, and charity,” but “Faith, Hope and Love.” Then would we have understood the comparison made by St. Paul, when he said,
“Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.”
Guided by this sentiment, the true Mason will “suffer long and be kind.” He will be slow to anger and easy to forgive. He will stay his falling brother by gentle admonition, and warn him with kindness of approaching danger. He will not open his ear to his slanderers, and will close his lips against all reproach. His faults and his follies will be locked in his breast, and the prayer for mercy will ascend to Jehovah for his brother’s sins. Nor will these sentiments of benevolence be confined to those who are bound to him by ties of kindred or worldly friendship alone, but, extending them throughout the globe, he will love and cherish all who sit beneath the broad canopy of our universal Lodge. For it is the boast of our Institution, that a Mason, destitute and worthy, may find in every clime a brother, and in every land a home.
In this installment of the Symbols and Symbolism of Freemasonry, we examine the text of Albert Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry on the symbolism of Hope.
Much derided, today, hope is one of those indispensable utilities that carries many of us over the final miles of a trying journey through life. In a masonic context, the symbol is simplified (almost overly) to represent a moment by which the individual may enter into the bliss of eternity.
In the video component, we explore the more broadly understanding of Hope and its origins from a small box out of the mists of antiquity.
Hope in Freemasonry
The second round in the theological and Masonic ladder, and symbolic of a hope in immortality. It is appropriately placed there, for, having attained the first, or faith in God, we are led by a belief in His wisdom and goodness to the hope of immortality. This is but a reasonable expectation; without it, virtue would lose its necessary stimulus and vice its salutary fear; life would be devoid of joy, and the grave but a scene of desolation. The ancients represented Hope by a nymph or maiden holding in her hand a bouquet of opening flowers, indicative of the coming fruit; but in modern and Masonic iconology, the science of Craft illustrations and likenesses, it is represented by a virgin leaning on an anchor, the anchor itself being a symbol of hope.
In this installment of the Symbols and Symbolism of Freemasonry, we consider a reading of Albert Mackey’s text on the subject of Faith as it pertains to Freemasonry. Distilled to a single word, Mackey gets to the essence of what that faith means in the fraternity and why it is so critical to the becoming of an Apprentice mason. Rather than give away Mackey’s conclusion, I’ll let his words speak for themselves as we explore them.
Faith in Freemasonry
In the theological ladder, the explanation of which forms a part of the instruction of the First Degree of Masonry, faith is said to typify the lowest round. Faith, here, is synonymous with confidence or trust, and hence we find merely a repetition of the lesson which had been previously taught that the first, the essential qualification of a candidate for initiation, is that he should trust in God.
In the lecture of the same Degree, it is said that “Faith may be lost in sight; Hope ends in fruition; but Charity extends beyond the grave, through the boundless realms of eternity And this is said, because as faith is “the evidence of things not seen,” when we see we no longer believe by faith but through demonstration; and as hope lives only in the expectation of possession, it ceases to exist when the object once hoped for is at length enjoyed, but charity, exercised on earth in acts of mutual kindness and forbearance, is still found in the world to come, in the sublime form of mercy from God to his erring creatures.
In this edition of Freemason Information’s Symbols and Symbolism we consider, together, the four cardinal virtues of Freemasonry as gathered form Albert Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. Mackey (and Freemasonry) originally sourcing the virtues from Plato’s scheme, discussed in Republic Book IV, 426–435. Mackey writes of the cardinal virtues saying, The pre-eminent or principal virtues on which all the others hinge or depend. They are temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice. They are referred to in the ritual of the first degree, and will be found below under their respective heads. Oliver says (Revelation of a Square, ch. i.,) that in the eighteenth century the Masons delineated the symbols of the four cardinal virtues by an acute angle, variously disposed. Thus, suppose you face the east, the angle symbolizing temperance will point to the south, It was called a Guttural. Fortitude was denoted by a saltire, or St. Andrew’s Cross. This was the Pectoral. The symbol of prudence was an acute angle pointing towards the south-east, and was denominated a Manual; and justice had its angle towards the north and was called a Pedestal or Pedal.
Of the particular virtues, Mackey says:
One of the four cardinal virtues; the practice of which is inculcated in the First Degree. The Freemason who properly appreciates the secrets which he has solemnly promised never to reveal, will not, by yielding to the unrestrained call of appetite, permit reason and judgment to lose their seats and subject himself, by the indulgence in habits of excess, to discover that which should be concealed, and thus merit and receive the scorn and detestation of his Brethren. And lest any Brother should forget the danger to which he is exposed in the unguarded hours of dissipation, the virtue of temperance is wisely impressed upon is memory, lay its reference to one of the most solemn portions of the ceremony of initiation. Some Freemasons, very properly condemning the vice of intemperance and abhorring its effects, have been unwisely led to confound temperance with total abstinence in a Masonic application, and resolutions have sometimes been proposed in Grand Lodges which declare the use of stimulating liquors in any quantity a Masonic offense. Put the law of Freemasonry authorizes no such regulation. It leaves to every man the indulgence of his own tastes within due limits, and demands not abstinence, but only moderation and temperance, in anything not actually wrongs.
Plato’s text on temperance says, “the virtue of temperance has more of the nature of harmony and symphony…Temperance…is the ordering or controlling of certain pleasures and desires; this is curiously enough implied in the saying of ‘a man being his own master;’ “ Something he finds as a “ridiculous in the expression ‘master of himself;’ for the master is also the servant and the servant the master; and in all these modes of speaking the same person is denoted,” but to which he denotes “…in the human soul there is a better and also a worse principle; and when the better has the worse under control, then a man is said to be master of himself; and this is a term of praise: but when, owing to evil education or association, the better principle, which is also the smaller, is overwhelmed by the greater mass of the worse—in this case he is blamed and is called the slave of self and unprincipled.”
One of the four cardinal virtues, whose excellencies are dilated on in the First Degree. It not only instructs the worthy Freemason to bear the ills of life with becoming resignation, “taking up arms against a sea of trouble,” but, by its intimate connection with a portion of our ceremonies, it teaches him to let no dangers shake, no pains dissolve the inviolable fidelity he owes to the trusts reposed in him. Or, in the words of the old Prestonian lecture, it is “a fence or security against any attack that might be made upon him by force or otherwise, to extort from him any of our Royal Secrets.”
Spence, in his Polymetis, when describing the moral virtues! says of Fortitude: “She may be easily known by her erect air and military dress, the spear she rests on with one hand, and the sword which she holds in the other. She has a globe under her feet; I suppose to shows that the Romans, by means of this virtue, were to subdue the whole world.”
Plato encapsulates courage (fortitude) as “a kind of salvation…[a salvation] of the opinion respecting things to be feared, what they are and of what nature, which the law implants through education; and I mean by the words ‘under all circumstances’ to intimate that in pleasure or in pain, or under the influence of desire or fear, a man preserves, and does not lose this opinion.”
This is one of the four cardinal virtues, the practice of which is inculcated upon the Entered Apprentice. Preston first introduced it into the Degree as referring to what was then, and long before had been called the Four Principal Signs, but which are now known as the Perfect Points of Entrance. Preston’s eulogium on prudence differs from that used in the lectures of the United States of America, which was composed by Webb. It is in these words: “Prudence is the true guide to human understanding, and consists in judging and determining with propriety what is to be said or done upon all our occasions, what dangers we should endeavor to avoid, and how to act in all our difficulties.” Webb’s definition, which is much better, may be found in all the Monitors. The Masonic reference of prudence to the manual point reminds us of the classic method of representing her in statues with a rule or measure in her hand.
In Plato’s Republic, Wisdom is harder to tease out as a virtue, but can essentially be distilled down as knowledge “first among the virtues…” where “good counsel is…a kind of knowledge, for not by ignorance, but by knowledge…so by reason of the smallest part or class, and of the knowledge which resides in this presiding and ruling part of itself, the whole State, being thus constituted according to nature, will be wise; and this, which has the only knowledge worthy to be called wisdom, has been ordained by nature to be of all classes the least.” The takeaway, perhaps, is that knowledge (education) leads to wisdom.
One of the four cardinal virtues, the practice of which is inculcated in the first degree. The Mason who remembers how emphatically he has been charged to preserve an upright position in all his dealings with mankind, should never fail to act justly to himself, to his brethren, and to the world. This is the cornerstone on which alone he can expect ” to erect a superstructure alike honorable to himself and to the Fraternity.” In iconography, Justice is usually represented as a matron with bandaged eyes, holding in one hand a sword and in the other a pair of scales at equipoise. But in Masonry the true symbol of Justice, as illustrated in the first degree, is the feet firmly planted on the ground, and the body upright.
Justice, Plato encapsulates as, “being concerned however, not with the outward man, but with the inward, which is the true self and concernment of man: for the just man does not permit the several elements within him to interfere with one another, or any of them to do the work of others,—he sets in order his own inner life, and is his own master and his own law, and at peace with himself; and when he has bound together the three principles within him, which may be compared to the higher, lower, and middle notes of the scale, and the intermediate intervals—when he has bound all these together, and is no longer many, but has become one entirely temperate and perfectly adjusted nature, then he proceeds to act, if he has to act, whether in a matter of property, or in the treatment of the body, or in some affair of politics or private business; always thinking and calling that which preserves and co-operates with this harmonious condition, just and good action, and the knowledge which presides over it, wisdom, and that which at any time impairs this condition, he will call unjust action, and the opinion which presides over it ignorance.
In this installment of Symbols and Symbolism we look at Albert Mackey’s entry in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry on the subject of Death. More broad than a mere memento mori, or skull and bones. Rather, Mackey equates the sentiment ones passing as the entrance to eternal existence.
The Scandinavians, in their Edda, describing the residence of Death in Hell, where she was east by her father, Loke, say that she there possesses large apartments, strongly built, and fenced with gates of iron. Her hall is Grief; her table, Famine and Hunger, her knife; Delay, her servant; Faintness, her porch; Sickness and Pain, her bed; and her tent, Cursing and Howling. But, the Masonic idea of death, like the Christian’s, is accompanied with no gloom, because it is represented only as a sleep, from whence we awaken into another life.
Among the ancients, sleep and death were fabled as twins. The Greek sophist, Old Gorgias, when dying, said, “Sleep is about to deliver me up to his brother;’’ but the death sleep of the heathen was a sleep from which there was no awaking.
The popular belief was annihilation, and the poets and philosophers fostered the people’s ignorance, by describing death as the total and irremediable extinction of live. Thus Seneca says—and he was too philosophic not to have known better—that “after death there comes nothing,” while Vergil, who doubtless had been initiated into the Mysteries of Eleusis, nevertheless calls death “an iron sleep, an eternal night,” yet the Ancient Mysteries were based upon the dogma of eternal life, and their initiations were intended to represent a resurrection. Freemasonry, deriving its system of symbolic teachings from these ancient religious associations, presents death to its neophytes as the gate or entrance to eternal existence. To teach the doctrine of immortality is the great object of the Third Degree. In its ceremonies we learn that live here is the time of labor, and that, working at the construction of a spiritual temple, we are worshiping the Grand Architect for whom we build that temple. But we learn also that, when that live is ended, it closes only to open upon a newer and higher one, where in a second temple and a purer Lodge, the Freemason will find eternal truth.
Death, therefore, in Masonic philosophy, is the symbol of initiation completed, perfected, and consummated.
Additionally, Mackey’s entry on Death in the Ancient Mysteries reads,
Each of the ancient religious Mysteries, those quasi-Masonic associations of the heathen world, was accompanied by a legend, which was always of a funereal character representing the death, by violence, of the deity to whom it was dedicated, and his subsequent resurrection or restoration to life. Hence, the first part of the ceremonies of initiation was solemn and lugubrious in character, ,while the latter part was cheerful and joyous. These ceremonies and this legend were altogether symbolical, and the great truths of the unity of God and the immortality, of the soul were by them intended to be dramatically explained.
This representation of death, which finds its analogue in the Third Degree of Freemasonry, has been technically called the Death of the Mysteries. It is sometimes more precisely defined, in reference to any special one of the Mysteries, as the Cabiric death or the Bacchic death, as indicating the death represented in the Mysteries of the Cabiri or of Dionysus.
Continuing the series of the broken column and the weeping virgin, in this episode of Symbols and Symbolism we look at Albert Mackey’s entry into the Encyclopedia of Freemasonry as he examines the figure of time in the Jeremy Cross statue of early American Freemasonry. the statue, a newer invention in the collection of symbols, it remarkably follows in the vein of the 24 inch gage and the hourglass.
The image of Time, under the conventional figure of a winged old man with the customary scythe and hour-glass, has been adopted as one of the modern symbols in the Third Degree. He is represented as attempting to disentangle the ringlets of a weeping virgin who stands before him. This, which is apparently a never-ending task, but one which Time undertakes to perform, is intended to teach the Freemasons that time, patience and perseverance will enable him to accomplish the great object of a Freemason’s labor, and at last to obtain the true Word which is the symbol of Divine Truth. Time, therefore, is in this connection the symbol of well-directed perseverance in the performance of duty.
This symbol with the broken column, so familiar to all Freemasons in the United States is probably an American innovation.
In this episode of Symbols and Symbolism we look at a short entry from Albert Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry examining the figure of the weeping virgin. A newer invention in the symbolism of Freemasonry, Mackey draws an ancient parallel to its cryptic iconography.
The Weeping Virgin with disheveled hair, in the Monument of the Third Degree used in the American Rite, is interpreted as a symbol of grief for the unfinished state of the Temple.
Jeremy Cross, who is said to have fabricated the monumental symbol, was not, we are satisfied, acquainted with Hermetic Science. Yet a woman thus portrayed, standing near a tomb, was a very appropriate symbol for the Third Degree, whose dogma is the resurrection.
In Hermetic Science, according to Nicolas Flammel (Hieroglyphics, chapter xxxii), a woman having her hair disheveled and standing near a tomb is a symbol of the soul.
Jeremy Cross (b.1783, d. 1861) became a mason in 1808 and soon became a student of Thomas Smith Webb. In 1819 he published The True Masonic Chart or Hieroglyphic Monitor, in which he borrowed liberally from the previous work of Webb. The Weeping Virgin first appeared as an illustration as rendered by the American copperplate engraver Amos Doolittle, appearing in Crosse’s The True Masonic Chart.
Symbolic, even among the symbols of Freemasonry, the moon plays an essential part in the esoteric nature of Freemasonry. Not a primary component of the ritual, the celestial body none-the-less features prominently in the rites and rituals of the lodge harkening back to older and more esoteric traditions.
The adoption of the moon in the Masonic system as a symbol is analogous to, but could hardly be derived from, the employment of the same symbol in the ancient religions. In Egypt, Osiris was the sun, and Isis the moon; in Syria, Adonis was the sun and Ashtaroth the moon; the Greeks adored her as Diana, and Hecate; in the mysteries of Ceres, while the hierophant or chief priest represented the Creator, and the torch-bearer the sun, the officer nearest the altar represented the moon. In short, moon-worship was as widely disseminated as sun-worship. Masons retain her image in their Rites because the Lodge is a representation of the universe. where, as the sun rules over the day, the moon presides over the night; as the one regulates the year, so does the other the months, and as the former is the king of the starry hosts of heaven, so is the latter their queen; but both deriving their heat, and light, and power from him, who has the third and the greatest light, the master of heaven and earth controls them both.
From The Master Mason
In its culmination, [the third degree] is the transition through life and death in order to be reborn anew with an understanding of the spiritual world that has always been around us but now made visible. The moon, here, is key as Yesod leads to our understanding of becoming an emblem of the reflective nature we assume in this transformation. Like the moon, we reflect the light of the Great Architect capturing what is impossible to see without becoming blinded by its radiance. This is, of course, a metaphor but no less appropriate to the change we undergo and the purpose we assume in becoming masters. Like the moon, each of us reflect the glory of the divine sun in phases, exerting our gravitational force over the tides of our interactions.