The Masonic Rite of Circumambulation has been frequently and learnedly discussed in connection with its close resemblance to similar observances recorded as having existed among the Druids, the processionals of the priests of ancient religions, and those still practiced in the Catholic, Greek, and Anglican Churches of the present day. The importance attached to ceremonial processions round land that it was intended to consecrate to some sacred employment, about edifices to be dedicated or cities to be destroyed, is amply set forth in Holy Writ and classical lore.
As a wall or hedge might surround or enclose something set apart for special reasons, so the mysticism of our forefathers imagined it possible to erect unseen spiritual barriers round objects or persons, which, according to the character of the accompanying incantations, would confine or exclude the powers of Light or Darkness as desired.
The pantheons of nearly all ancient peoples were personifications of the celestial bodies and of the constellations that served to mark the zodiacal signs and other divisions. Elaborate spectacles were therefore devised to mystify the “profane” and edify the initiates, which exhibited the movements of the sun, moon and planets among the fixed stars, especially accentuating their positions at important periods. The Sun was ever deity and king, while the hero and martyr of the various mysteries seems to have been the planet Mercury.
This latter has a triple aspect, made much use of. Situated the nearest of all our solar system to the sun, Mercury is ever to be found in the same part of the heavens. It has a year of 88 days. (“Year” in Latin, annus, means “a ring,” or complete circle of the sun.) Part of the year Mercury rises simultaneously with the sun, when it is seen as a “morning star” for a few moments at daybreak. At another season it is seen for only a few minutes at evening, as the sun sets. Always disappearing in the intensifying solar rays, this phenomenon was likened to draping in the Lion’s skin.
This star was always the character of the candidate for initiation, because Mercury was the tutelary planet presiding over the destinies of man, and its three aspects (beauty, strength, and wisdom) were the attributes of the soul, mind, and intellect.
Mercury’s circumambulations of the zodiac in one solar year are four; but they are symbolically limited to three, because, while this planet “rises above” and “falls below” the sun with each of its revolutions, as a mythological personage three of these falls are characterized as due to the attack of an enemy, while the fourth, occurring close to the winter solstice, was accounted a burial, the subsequent rise from which was a resurrection. A grave error has possessed many commentators on the ancient mysteries in taking the figure of the slain hero (Adonis, Tammuz, Dionysus, etc.) to be the sun. The sun was the Supreme Being to all the ancient peoples, who, though he veiled his face in anger with storms, and removed himself afar in winter, never either died naturally or was slain. The proximity of Mercury to the sun carries that planet wherever the sun goes; hence the frequent confusion. Old Babylonian cylinder seals frequently show this final fall of Mercury between the pillars of the west with the sun god stretching forth his hand to resuscitate him, while personifications of the three planets Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars look on accompanied by their respective attributes of water, air, and fire.
There was, however, another and equally important meaning to the circumambulations of the candidate round the imaginary circle of the heavens, and that resided in the numbers involved-108, the span of human life, was both the number and the name of Mercury (ChR); 216, or double that number, was called by the Pythagorean the number of metempsychosis or reincarnation, which doctrine was once universally taught . The “thrice born” had advanced in wisdom and sanctity to the rank of a “Holy One,” a fact that the Hebrews have preserved in their word Kadosh (KDSh), which has the value of three times 108, or 324. The Hindu mystery of the 10 avatars, or successive births of Vishnu, illustrates the progress of the human being through successive terrestrial lives from a fish to a god. In the ninth avatar the ever-upward pursuing soul becomes a Buddha, completely possessed of the divine wisdom ; hence nine times 108, which is the same as three times 324, or three times Kadosh (“Holy, Holy, Holy”) ; while three times round the circle of 360 degrees gives us the number 1,080, or 10 times 108, which accomplishes the rounds of rebirth in the Kalki Avatar, the conqueror on the white horse, with the blazing sword, whose mission it is permanently to establish righteousness and truth upon the earth.
A very few years before our era the Bactrians, whose priests were the Magi, struck coins to a historically unknown king. One side represents Apollo, capped with a rising sun, while on the other a figure seated upon a horse holds forth a cross, the surrounding inscription of which is Soter Megas Basileus Basileon. (“The great Savior, King of Kings”). This, with a side glance at Revelation xix, 11-16, leads us closer than ever to a perception of the great cosmic mystery involved in our Masonic journeying in search of light.