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ILLUSTRATED BY SYMBOLS
From Dormer Masonic Study Circle #157
Of course the morality of Freemasonry must be illustrated by symbols, for there is nothing else. Many papers, not just recent ones, have pointed out that everything we use is a symbol. A symbol is something we are familiar with, which, in addition to its conventional meaning, has a specific connotation, beyond the obvious one. It is not necessary to elaborate on the distinction and difference between a sign and a symbol. No one has ever yet "invented" a symbol - a sign yes, but symbol no. Symbols originate in the subconscious. Every word is a sort of shorthand to express a concept or define an object. Words mean more or less the same to each of us, but . . . only more or less. Even the letters making up the words have a deliberate meaning, form and a peculiar relationship to each other.
Masonic symbols are generally architectural. They are borrowed from architecture, which has been defined as living mathematics. They are applied to the science of soul measurement and soul development, to self knowledge, that most rewarding of all human studies. But why should the square teach morality? What was the process of logic, or was it a revelation, whereby this tool became associated with this concept? We should not forget that the square was used thus as a symbol in China over 6000 years ago. In the definition of 'morality' is there not an element of both e.g. equality and uprightness? If therefore there is a degree of arbitrariness in allocating morality to the square, or the square to morality, how much does this matter? What is important is that we try to fully understand morality. Could you define "morality?" And of course, distinguish it from "morality!" When we can do so, we no longer need any symbol for it at all, and so could discard the square.
Put in another way, how may a glass of wine be interpreted as a symbol? To one it could represent drunkenness, to another abstention and teetotalism, while to a third it would suggest the mellowness of moderation. So the meaning may very well depend on the environment or context. It is probably true to say that a symbol can never be precisely defined or fully explained. Symbols are stimulating seed thoughts.
The cross in Western religion expresses a multitude of ideas, emotions and aspects, but a cross after a name on a list can simply mean that the individual is dead or has not paid his subscription. The graffiti of a twelve year old boy may have an explicit meaning, not present when an electrician speaks of male plugs and female sockets, and we should get very refined ideas from an educated Hindu on this significant and symbolic subject. The meaning and significance depend on the context. However, just as in Masonry, the square always teaches morality, so is it that when we give the masonic fire or salutation, "Point, left, right," the Point always refers to the Deity. (It does so in all degrees, not just the Craft, and Royal Arch.) For in the Deity is the comprehensive con- jointing of all opposites, represented by "left" and "right." There is a tradition that when the Creation came into manifestation, the first thing to appear was a Point, so the point (or Jod) is a symbol of God Manifest.
But a brother was recently heard to say he was looking for an authoritative interpretation of symbols. If we might regard Dr. C. G. Jung as something of an authority on symbols, we may take note of some ideas which are expressed and fully elaborated in his last work entitled "Man and his symbols." It is well known that Jung regards dreams as a means used by the subconscious mind of man to give sensible instruction to the conscious mind. (Instruction here is used to include: awaken, warn, arouse, subdue, remind, liberate, enlighten, provoke, restrain, enliven, direct . . . The sub- conscious mind just has to get through to the conscious mind.) Every aspect of a dream is of significance to the dreamer, who alone can interpret it. He may of course be helped by a so called psychoanalyst or psychologist, but the dreamer alone can assess the validity of the interpretation. Jung also holds that the dream contains its own key to the understanding of the dream's message. The Talmud says "The dream is its own interpretation." In other words, no dream symbol can be separated from the dreamer. Curiously, this finds an exact parallel in modern scientific research, where it is becoming accepted, perhaps reluctantly by scientists, that the result of any research is NOT independent of the researcher.
So, with dreams, the dreamer gets instruction which originates from within himself. In Freemasonry, a brother gets instruction by a deliberately constructed system of morality. One may be regarded as coming from "within," the other from "without," but both are indeed illustrated by symbols.
Allegories are a way of stringing symbols together into coherence, into some sort of story. Dreams use the equivalent of mixed metaphors - they do not make sense - neither do allegories, if examined too literally and closely. Dreams are vivid and picturesque; so are allegories. It is the conscious mind, the so-called intellect, which needs concepts trimmed of their emotional and fantastic content. A paper such as this has to present ideas in a somewhat cold, intellectual manner. This may seem to be a rather one-sided concessions to man's developing need, and it is possibly a result of the technological revolution over the last few hundred years, with its emphasis and insistence on intellectual appreciation, because it has been paralleled by a corresponding decrease in man's use of his other perceptive faculties.
But there are a surprising number of individuals who never use their minds at all if they can avoid it, and an equal number who do use it but in an astonishingly naive way. Many wideawake people live as if they never use their senses. They do not see the obvious before them, hear not the sounds around them, and notice not the things they touch. They are even unaware of their own bodies. Others, being completely devoid of imagination, live as if the state they had arrived at today were final, with no possibility of change, as if both their inner and outer worlds were static and permanently so. Truly thinking people apply their intellects to trying to adapt themselves to people and circumstances; and there are equally intelligent people who make their way by feeling.
Sensation (i.e. sense perception) which may be equated with the Tyler, tells us something exists, the impressions having been tationalised by the Inner Guard. Thinking and feeling, as just described above, the junior Warden, tells us what it is and whether it is agreeable. Intuition, the Senior Warden, tells us whence it came and whither it shall go. Conscience, the Worshipful Master, relates it to all other things, i.e. to the Unity of all things. (Note the derivation of the word "conscience.") These functions of our being are represented by these masonic symbols.
So the significance of a masonic symbol is quite deliberate, but nevertheless is open to individual interpretation. Doubtless the meanings attaching to the symbols in the mysteries of ancient Egypt were equally deliberate. In a way, the meanings remain the same, but the form the meaning is clothed with, changes. We can quite easily imagine an Egyptian neophyte asking "Where did this Osiris-Isis myth come from? Was Osiris a real person?" and hearing an old Egyptian past master, on being prodded into wakefulness, reply "We always did it the other way in my day . . . we never asked questions." These questions need answers.
Do we not say "Masonry requires a perfect freedom of inclination in every candidate?" What a symbol means is not independent of the individual. Our masonic symbols are almost too well defined. If they always meant exactly the same thing, a symbol would become a mere word, and the word a collection of meaningless letters. Is it not written "The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life?"
So, Brethren, let us remember that Freemasonry is a means to an end, an end which is far more important than the means. And likewise with its symbols. They too are unimportant compared with what the symbol means to you, for man in his present state can never really understand or comprehend anything.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014