In this episode of Symbols and Symbols we examine the Masonic symbol of the beehive, a symbol that Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, calls a symbol of an obedient people. In masonic parlance, the symbol is more recognizable as an emblem industry. The Master Mason degree says of the beehive that it is an emblem of industry, and “recommends the practice of that virtue to all created beings, from the highest seraph in heaven to the lowest reptile of the dust.” Yet, as Mackey explains, the emblem is much, much, more.
A symbol that Albert Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, says “was among the Egyptians the symbol of an obedient people”, because, as he quotes Horapollo, “…of all insects, the bee alone had a king,” what we know now to be a queen. Mackey continues “Hence looking at the regulated labor of these insects when congregated in their hive, it is not surprising that a beehive should have been deemed an appropriate emblem of systematized industry. Freemasonry has therefore adopted the beehive as a symbol of industry, a virtue taught in the instructions, which says that a Master Mason” works that he may receive wages, the better to support himself and family, and contribute to the relief of a worthy, distressed brother, his widows and orphans. In the Old Charges, which tell us that “…all Masons shall work honestly on working days, that they may live creditably on holidays.”
There seems, however, to be a more recondite meaning connected with this symbol. The ark has already been shown to have been an emblem common to Freemasonry and the Ancient Mysteries, as a symbol of regeneration—of the second birth from death to life. Now, in the Mysteries, a hive was a type of ark. “Hence,” says Faber (Origin of Pagan Idolatry, volume ii, page 133), “both the diluvian priestesses and the regenerated souls were called bees; hence, bees were feigned to be produced from the carcass of a cow, which also symbolized the ark; and hence, as the great father was esteemed an infernal god, honey was much used both in funeral rites and in the Mysteries.”
In this installment of Symbols and Symbolism, we look at the meaning behind the iconic slogan of the York RightKnight Templars – In Hoc Signo Vinces (pronounced – in hohk sig-noh wing-kase). Translated from Latin to read “By this sign thou shalt conquer,” the motto, and its corresponding association with the passion cross are, perhaps, a misrepresentation of its original and true intention and an adoption by later Christian military orders in their conquest over the pagan world.
Despite its militaristic association, the motto and the symbols it represents have perhaps a far older symbolic meaning into the mysteries of Egypt and beyond.
From Albert Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry:
On the Grand Standard of a Commandery of Knights Templar these words are inscribed over “a blood-red Passion Cross,” and they constitute in part the motto of the American branch of the Order. Their meaning, “By this sign thou shalt conquer,” is a substantial, but not literal, translation of the original Greek. For the origin of the motto, IN HOC SIGNO VINCES (pronounced “In hoke seeg-noh ween-case” from the Greek) we must go back to a well-known legend of the Church, which has, however, found more doubters than believers among the learned. Eusebius, who wrote a life of Constantine says that while the emperor was in Gaul, in the year 312, preparing for war with his rival, Maxentius, about the middle hours of the day, as the sun began to verge toward its setting, he saw in the heavens with his own eyes, the sun surmounted with the trophy of the cross, which was composed of light, and a legend annexed, which said “by this conquer.” This account Eusebius affirms to be in the words of Constantine.
Lactantius, who places the occurrence at a later date and on the eve of a battle with Maxentius, in which the latter was defeated, relates it not as an actual occurrence, but as a dream or vision; and this is now the generally received opinion of those who do not deem the whole legend a fabrication. On the next day, Constantine had an image of this cross made into a banner, called the labarum, which he ever afterward used as the imperial standard. Eusebius describes it very fully. It was not a Passion Cross, such as is now used on the modern Templar standard, but the monogram of Christ. The shaft was a very long spear.
On the toll was a crown composed of Gold and precious stones, and containing the sacred symbol, namely, the Greek letter “rho” or P. intersected by the “chi” or X, which two letters are the first and second of the name “XRISTOS”, or Christ. If then, the Templars retain the motto on their banner, they should, for the sake of historical accuracy, discard the Passion Cross, and replace it with the Constantinian Chronogram, or Cross of the Labarum. But the truth is that the ancient Templars used neither the Passion Cross, nor that of Constantine, nor was the motto “In Hoc Signo Vinces” on their standard. Their only banner was the black and white Beauseant, and at the bottom of it was inscribed their motto, also in Latin, “Non nobis Domine, non-nobis, sed nomini to da gloriam, meaning “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thee give the glory.” This was the song or shout of victory sung by the Templars when triumphant in battle.
Manly P. Hall, in his Secret Teachings of All Ages, finds parallels with In Hoc Sig Vinces in an examination of the Tau cross and the Crux Ansata, saying:
There are three distinct forms of the cross. The first is called the TAU (more correctly the TAV). It closely resembles the modern letter T, consisting of a horizontal bar resting on a vertical column, the two arms being of equal length. An oak tree cut off some feet above the ground and its upper part laid across the lower in this form was the symbol of the Druid god Hu. It is suspected that this symbol originated among the Egyptians from the spread of the horns of a bull or ram (Taurus or Aries) and the vertical line of its face. This is sometimes designated as the hammer cross, because if held by its vertical base it is not unlike a mallet or gavel. In one of the Qabbalistic Masonic legends, CHiram Abiff is given a hammer in the form of a TAU by his ancestor, Tubal-cain. The TAU cross is preserved to modern Masonry under the symbol of the T square. This appears to be the oldest form of the cross extant.
The TAU cross was inscribed on the forehead of every person admitted into the Mysteries of Mithras. When a king was initiated into the Egyptian Mysteries, the TAU was placed against his lips. It was tattooed upon the bodies of the candidates in some of the American Indian Mysteries. To the Qabbalist, the TAU stood for heaven and the Pythagorean tetracts. The Caduceus of Hermes was an outgrowth of the TAU cross.
The second type was that of a T, or TAU, cross surmounted by a circle, often foreshortened to the form of an upright oval. This was called by the ancients the Crux Ansata, or the cross of life (as illustrated as the ankh). It was the key to the Mysteries of antiquity and it probably gave rise to the more modern story of St. Peter’s golden key to heaven. In the Mysteries of Egypt, the candidate passed through all forms of actual and imaginary dangers, holding above his head the Crux Ansata, before which the powers of darkness fell back abashed. The student is reminded of the words In hoc signo vinces. The TAU form of the cross is not unlike the seal of Venus, as Richard Payne Knight has noted. He states: “The cross in this form is sometimes observable on coins, and several of them were found in a temple of Serapis [the Serapeum], demolished at the general destruction of those edifices by the Emperor Theodosius, and were said by the Christian antiquaries of that time to signify the future life.”
Augustus Le Plongeon, in his Sacred Mysteries Among the Mayas and Quiches, notes that the Crux Ansata, which he calls The Key to the Nile and the Symbol of Symbols, either in its complete form or as a simple TAU, was to be seen adorning the breasts of statues and bas-reliefs at Palenque, Copan, and throughout Central America. He notes that it was always associated with water; that among the Babylonians it was the emblem of the water gods; among the Scandinavians, of heaven and immortality; and among the Mayas, of rejuvenation and freedom from physical suffering.The third form of the cross is the familiar Roman or Greek type, which is closely associated with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, although it is improbable that the cross used resembled its more familiar modern form. There are unlimited sub-varieties of crosses, differing in the relative proportions of their vertical and horizontal sections.
The third form of the cross is the familiar Roman or Greek type, which is closely associated with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, although it is improbable that the cross used resembled its more familiar modern form. There are unlimited sub-varieties of crosses, differing in the relative proportions of their vertical and horizontal sections. Among the secret orders of different generations, we find compounded crosses, such as the triple TAU in the Royal Arch of Freemasonry and the double and triple crosses of both Masonic and Roman Catholic symbolism.
To the Christian, the cross has a twofold significance.
First, it is the symbol of the death of his Redeemer, through whose martyrdom he feels that he partakes of the glory of God; secondly, it is the symbol of humility, patience, and the burden of life. It is interesting that the cross should be both a symbol of life and a symbol of death. Many nations deeply considered the astronomical aspect of religion, and it is probable that the Persians, Greeks, and Hindus looked upon the cross as a symbol of the equinoxes and the solstices, in the belief that at certain seasons of the year the sun was symbolically crucified upon these imaginary celestial angles.
With all due personal and Masonic respect, in the spirit of Masonic “due and timely notice,” I feel compelled to address your Ruling and Decision No. 3, of 2012. While your ruling is unique to the Florida Jurisdiction, it has stirred a major controversy; adverse to the peace and harmony amongst regular Freemasons, beyond your Jurisdiction.
As a particular case in point, it was thoroughly, passionately and constructively discussed at my most recent Lodge meeting. It is also currently scheduled to be discussed in at least one other Lodge in the Seattle area, which I’m aware of. None present at my Lodge’s most recent meeting indicated any magnitude of agreement with your position, as expressed in your Ruling and Decision No. 3. However, one of the points of the discussion was whether or not it was appropriate to advocate that the Washington Grand Lodge remove its recognition of the Florida Grand Lodge.
In the spirit of Freemasonry, and in hope of contributing to the healing of any controversy surrounding your Ruling and Decision No. 3, I respectfully request that you seriously consider the following viewpoints:
1.Your ruling clearly cites the “Landmarks” submitted by Dr. Albert Mackey; which, in their entirety, did not actively serve Freemasonry when they were written. Nor have these “Landmarks” been at all widely accepted, to any appreciable degree, by Freemasons as the basis for Masonic Jurisprudence; unique Masonic Code coincidence excepted.
2.If “Mackey’s Landmarks” (25) are to be the basis for strict modern Masonic jurisprudence, it is academic that they must be considered in their entirety. Such would be unacceptable, just by virtue of their assertion that any Grandmaster is entitled to make “Masons at site.”
3.If followed, “Mackey’s Landmarks” – and your Ruling and Decision No. 3 – regarding religion, would by extension, imply the necessary exclusion of those, amongst others, of the Jewish faith; while accepting those of the Islamic following – with a predictable accompanying furor, however irrational such may be. Certainly, the expense and monetary consequences of potential civil litigation need to be considered; add the predictable PR damage to the Masonic fraternity.
4.If continued, your Ruling and Decision No. 3 is clearly and logically destined to force a ‘comparative review’ of the Christian religion, in general; with potentially damaging viewpoints and associated consequences – to ultimately be associated with not only “Freemasonry,” but your personal legacy as a Grandmaster. Just within the confines of Freemasonry, any such exchanges are overwhelmingly unconscionable, particularly having been instigated by a Masonic Grandmaster, inadvertently or otherwise.
5.Additionally, your Ruling and Decision No. 3 sends the clearly implied message that the Masonic doors and Lodge rooms are open to liars; while punishing members of integrity and honesty. Worse, fearing an unpredictable ‘purge, a significant percentage of members of any Florida Lodge would find it instantly compelling to resort to dishonesty; as the easiest resolution to a clearly distasteful ruling – with a consequent and enduring distrust of the Florida Grand Lodge, per se.
6.I would also encourage you to consider the potential for your Ruling and Decision No. 3 also being locally viewed and noted as a personal violation of the Florida Jurisdiction’s Master Masons’ Obligation, prohibiting any act which would wrong either a Lodge or an individual Master Mason; regardless of whether or not Masonic charges are asserted.
Accordingly, in the interest of Masonic peace and harmony, I implore you to withdraw your Ruling and Decision No. 3.
Fraternally and Respectfully,
Ralph W. Omholt P.M.
“A beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols.”
The above quote is the description of Masonry that is most often given to the initiate in order to describe the nature of the institution. It is so oft repeated that I suppose many Freemasons don’t give much thought to its meaning. However, when examined closely this description of our order gives us a clear picture of the purpose of our fraternity.
Let us take the first part of the phrase: “A beautiful system of morality.” This is fairly easy to understand. Freemasonry is school of moral instruction. Throughout the three degrees, the initiate is taught numerous lessons on the subject of morality. These degrees discuss many different aspects of that concept including the physical and spiritual components of morality. In many ways, religion serves a similar role in a man’s life. Every religion teaches man to walk upright before God, gives him a sense of good and evil, and encourages him to pursue righteous ventures throughout his life. While Masonry is not a religion, it shares the purpose of moral instruction. However, Masonry’s method of teaching morality is very peculiar in modern times.
At this point, let us shift our focus to the following words: “veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” The word ‘allegory’ is described by the dictionary as being “a symbolical narrative.”
A sketch of George Washington’s Masonic apron which features some of Masonry’s deep symbolism.
A symbolical narrative is any story crafted in order to portray a deeper meaning. The Masonic symbols in the legend of the Third Degree, Aesop’s Fables, and Jesus’ parables are all examples of allegory. Masonry uses allegorical tales throughout the Symbolic Lodge, York Rite, and Scottish Rite in order to teach its system of morality. In addition to the legends of each degree, a multitude of symbols are used to illustrate and reinforce the concepts of the degrees. This is where Masonry differs from many modern systems of moral instruction. Today, most religions and philosophies convey their moral teachings through a series of long lectures presented either written or orally. They utilize very little symbolism in order to educate their followers. Albert Mackey explains this in The Symbolism of Freemasonry.
“The older the religion, the more symbolism abounds. Modern religions may convey their dogmas in abstract propositions; ancient religions always conveyed them in symbols. Thus there is more symbolism in the Egyptian religion than in the Jewish, more in the Jewish than in the Christian, more in the Christian than in the Mohammedan, and, lastly, more in the Roman than in the Protestant.”
Masonry as an organization may only be a few centuries old, but its philosophical lessons can claim the most ancient of lineages. The moral education found inside the lodge is similar to that taught by any great religion, initiatic order, or school of philosophy. Take a second to think about your personal Masonic journey. Consider the moment when you were brought to light and received your first symbolic instruction. Think about how the solemn and deep language of symbolism enhanced your experience. Now imagine that the same lessons had been explained to you without the use of allegory or illustrated symbols. If you realize that the symbolic instruction provided a greater understanding of those moral precepts, you have discovered the true nature of Freemasonry.
The core of Freemasonry, and its Masonic symbols, is its allegorical and symbolic instruction. Without it, the order would not exist for it would have no purpose. It is Masonry’s language of symbolism that makes it appeal to the candid and industrious inquirer. It is Masonry’s allegorical legends that expose those ancient truths concealed within the fraternity. Symbolic instruction is our language, it is our identity, and it unveils the whole of Freemasonry.