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The Word! An Historical and Masonic Explanation

by Lyle S. Evans, PGHP, Ohio 
The Royal Arch Mason VOL. X FALL, 1971

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. In Him was Life and Life was the Light of Man." - Gospel According to Saint John, 1:1,4

Many times, in the course of a study of the Chapter degrees, have I asked myself the question, why, in the formation of the degrees, and particularly the Royal Arch, did the founders make the search for the "Word" the basis of their work? What reason did they have for so doing? If the Bible was the Great Light from which they worked, was there anything in the Bible to account for this fact, or did the reason therefor reach farther back in history than that remarkable Book? Again, if the Bible, and history, did contain the record of such a search, was there something vital therein which would account for the prominence given it, not only throughout the Chapter degrees, but many other degrees of Masonry?

I fully believe that all of these questions should be answered affirmatively, and that it is worth while to spend some time and effort to answer the questions asked above.

I do not pretend that the matters here presented are original. In fact, I will tell you that they are not, but are compilations from the opinions of many great Masonic scholars, historians, archaeologists and others. I will use some quotations from their writings. I hope however, to interest you in the subject, and to get those of you, who do not know it, to take the time to become familiar with it. The subject is worthy of study, and the results of that study will add much to the interest in Masonry and particularly the Chapter degrees.


When man first appeared on earth, many ages ago, he was as the beasts. He had no knowledge, and only instinct and hunger made him do certain necessary things. As time went on, man from his experience, slowly learned other lessons. He learned there was a sun, moon, the stars, that there was heat and cold, and that certain things were good to eat and others not. He learned to provide food for himself and his family, and, in time, the use of fire, and how to form crude implements. For all of these things, it was necessary to supply a name, which he did.

There being in every man a need for religion to satisfy the same, he deified many of the natural phenomena, and to each of these he gave a name. To them he ascribed passions, such as he had, and used means to propitiate his gods, such as he would want done to himself. A ritual was developed for services in honor of these gods, and a priesthood was created to carry out that ritual. Necessarily the members of the priesthood were of higher intelligence. With the development of wealth and the growth of cities, temples for the worship of the gods were built, and a ritual was developed for services in the temples. With the growth of cities and nations came kings. These later became absolute monarchs, whose word meant life or death to the people. Many nations had rulers who were a part of the priesthood, or were under the control of that body.

Now each of these gods was given a name, in fact two or more names. Some were used for the people, and the others sacredly guarded by the priests. The same was true of the kings.


It is necessary here to distinguish between names, as we now know them, and as they were at that period of history. We had then no given names for a person nor any surname or family name. Your son or daughter would not bear your name, but would be named for some important event, or for some thing that the child might have done. It might have one or more names depending upon the number of incidents of importance in its life. The word name really was used in the sense of fame or renown.

To cite some examples. The name Adam, the first man in the world, simply means "man." Eve was so called because the name means "living" and she was the mother of all living. Cain means "lance" and as the lance was the means by which game was secured the word had a secondary meaning of "to get." Hence Eve called her son Cain because she had begotten him. Abram's name means "exalted father" because he was to be the father of a great nation. Later the "h" was added to the middle of his name to make Abraham which means the "father of a multitude."

Now the great mass of the people was ignorant. They had no knowledge. They were intensely superstitious. The priesthood had all of the then known knowledge. For the purpose of keeping this knowledge within their ranks and to keep the people interested in religion, there were developed rituals of temple worship. A young man intending to become a priest had to go through a long training and an initiation before he could become a priest. The priesthood was a closed corporation jealous of its rights.

Royalty was carefully guarded. Many of the kings claimed to be descended from the gods, and to reign over their people by direct command of the gods.

Now there was carefully fostered by the priesthood and gradually developed among the people a belief that the name of the king or the gods must not be spoken. It could be used only by the priests in temple worship. The name of the king must not be mentioned. If any one was guilty of the offense of mentioning either the name of a god or of the king, some terrible misfortune would come to him and his family.


It is but a step from this to the belief that the name of any person must be carefully guarded. That to know a man's true name was to give to the knower power over the person whose name he knew. It might be the cause of one's death, or might bring to him some serious loss. This belief among the more primitive peoples still persists.

Because of this belief, most of the people had two names, one which was in common use, and the other which was sacredly guarded. It was generally believed that a man's name was a part of himself, and had an important bearing on his character. This belief was current among the Hebrews and had considerable influence in the development of their history. In fact this superstition was carried so far that there are instances in which the true name was possessed only by the parents of the child, for fear that if the child knew his real name he might at some time reveal it to his hurt.

We all know the story of Samson and Delilah. Delilah persuaded Samson to reveal to her his true name. The belief as to the power possessed by one who knew your name was not limited to one nation, but was common to all. In Egypt it caused the Pharaohs to build for themselves two tombs. In one, the mummy was placed and in the other the Ka or other self.


This superstition went further. It was also believed that if any one knew the true name of one of the gods, or of the king, either could be compelled to do the bidding of the one who knew the name. All that was necessary was that the name be pronounced with a request for whatever was desired and it would be forthcoming.

The legendary history of the various nations is full of stories of this type. It is the source of many of the fairy stories now read to our children. Read the Arabian Nights. Solomon subdued the rebellious genii by pronouncing the name of Allah. The Arabian Knight performed prodigies of valor by means of a Sword on which was inscribed the name of Allah.

From this it may be seen that the human race, during the period we are talking of, believed that knowledge of the true name of a man or god carried with it great power for good or evil. Therefore great care was used to preserve the knowledge of the true name from those not entitled to it. It was therefore a common heritage of all peoples and nations of the world at the time of the rise of the Jews as a nation.

At this time Egypt was the richest and most powerful nation and occupied the valley of the Nile, with some holdings in Syria. The valley of the Euphrates also was the seat of several powerful kingdoms.


Ur, the city from which Abraham came, lay in the valley of the Euphrates, and, at that time, the river ran close to it. It was a city of culture and of great wealth. Recent excavations have brought to light much of interest. There was a magnificent temple to its god, Nannar, the moon god. It had a currency, a banking system, schools, and a written language. Its houses were well constructed of sun dried brick. And, for that era, the kingdom covered a lame territory. Besides the pantheon of gods worshipped in the main temple, each household had its own family god, like the Roman Penates.

Among the people living in this city, were certain families of Semitic origin. It was from one of these that Abraham came. Abraham or "Abram" as he was then known, grew to manhood in this city, and its culture had a great influence on his later life, and also on the Jewish people.

The Bible tells us Abraham received a call to leave Ur and with his father and his family departed to take up the life of a nomad or wandering shepherd and in time to become the founder of a mighty nation. Abraham was a monotheist and the household god of his family was the symbol first used by Abraham to represent the Great Jehovah.

The story of the growth of the Jews as a nation need not here be told, but it might be well to mention several things that influenced the development of the nation and the people.

First, the Jews lived on the caravan routes between Egypt and the East and constantly met the people traveling back and forth. Secondly, the Jews at several times lived in Egypt. Under Joseph, they held positions of importance and frequently married Egyptians.

Third, the territory in which the Jews lived was for many years a tributary province of Egypt and later of Babylon.

Fourth, the Jews married at times with idolatrous peoples and their kings as well as the people were led from the worship of the true God.

All of these things not only influenced the nation as such, but had its effect upon their religion. It must be remembered that the early history of the Jews was not written, it was only oral tradition. It seems now to be reasonably certain that the first books of the Bible were not reduced to writing until the time of the Babylonish captivity. It is but natural that oral tradition during this long period of time would have been influenced by the great changes in the life and standards of the people.


That the custom of keeping sacred and holy the name of their God should have been adopted by the Jews is but natural. It could not be otherwise. The Bible contains passage after passage having reference to the "Name" and the reverence due to it.

Now as to the loss of the "Word." This is furnished by Masonic tradition. There are two traditions. One was that Enoch under command of the Most High God built a vault of nine arches, in the lowest of which the "Name" was placed on a triangular plate of gold, that at the time of the flood this was lost and was not found until David began digging the foundations of the new Temple. The other is the more familiar one, which you all know.

These stories do not coincide, nor do they agree with the Biblical narrative. The Bible tells us that the "Name" was given to Moses, while in the wilderness, when the Lord spoke to Moses from the midst of the burning bush:

"Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: Jehovah, the God of your Fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob hath sent me unto you. This is my Name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations."

And also:

"I am Jehovah, and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac and unto Jacob by the name of El Shaddai, but by my Name Jehovah was I not known unto them."

It is not necessary for Masonic purposes or for the purpose of this paper that tradition and the Bible be reconciled. But you will now say, how is it that the Word is lost? We have it twice set forth in the Bible. Masonic tradition gives you a very good reason why the Word was lost. I will go back into history and try and give to you another.

The ancient manuscripts of the Bible were written in several languages, among them the Hebrew. Originally the Hebrew language was written without vowels, or anything to represent vowel sounds, until much later than the period we are now discussing. At that later time so-called points were used to indicate vowel sounds. The letters used were only consonants, such as we now see used in our rituals. Hence unless one knew the correct vowels to use, the "Name" could not be read or pronounced correctly, and it was lost. This is what happened. When it happened is another question.


It may have happened as told in Masonic tradition. Yet we feel certain the "Word" was used during the time the First Temple was standing. The ceremonies of the Most Excellent Degree would so indicate. The loss may have occurred during one of the periods when King Solomon reverted to idolatry. Or the loss may have been during the reigns of any of the many weak kings that succeeded Solomon and before the destruction of the Temple. Certainly, if not before, it occurred at the time the Temple was burnt. We are at a loss to know which is correct.

At least the true pronunciation was lost and remained buried until the building of the new Temple, when we are told that it was found. Whether our ritual is or is not correct at this point is not important. We are told it was found.

The Jews used in the Bible a number of names for Deity. In the English version they have been translated in different forms depending upon the sense in which the word was used. The study of why and how the "Name" has been translated is not here important. We do know however that the Jews were forbidden to pronounce the true name God, and that, only the High Priest might do so. How and when this was done is familiar to you.

After Moses received the "Name," it was kept in the Ark in a sacred place, until such time as a permanent place could be secured. When the Jews had occasion to use the "Name," they would substitute for it the word "Adonay." The Word when it appeared in their Scriptures was never spoken.

God promised the Israelites that they would have a permanent home in the Land of Promise and that He would deposit His name in a permanent place. This place would then become sacred and a center of worship for the people and they were to consider this place as God's dwelling place. As we know Jerusalem became the place for the erection of the Temple, in which was placed the Ark, the place of deposit.

We have now advanced to a point where it is not necessary to our religion that there be such secrecy, or that the "Name" be known to only a few, but we do hold the "Name" in reverence, and we do expect that those who pronounce it always do so with reverence in their hearts.


Having now shown why we have a "Name," how it was lost and later found, may we now seek the reason why this has been incorporated in the Masonic degrees and particularly the Royal Arch.

I will not attempt here to give a history of the Chapter degrees. This has been done before.

When Masonry changed from its operative form to a speculative system, it became necessary to incorporate in the several degrees a lesson, or lessons, that would be of interest to the Craft and which would assist the members in their moral and spiritual life. Where in all history or literature was there anything more worthy of that place than the story of the loss and recovery of the "Word." Surely there can not be anything more uplifting.

In the words of Com. Joseph E. Morcombe:

"What, then, is this Word - what underlies the paradox of that which is forever being lost and yet forever found? It is the secret of the ages and the revelation of all recorded time. It is the indwelling dream of the mystic, the deepest thought of the philosopher, the ecstatic vision of the poet and the passionate speech of the prophet. Men of the Old Aryan race knew its accents in the earthly paradise beyond the Himalayas. The priest of Egypt whispered it in the ears of the dying as he passed to the judgment hall of Osiris. It was given to Moses in the thunders of Sinai and it found softer speech in the words of One who called the children to Him in old Judea. It is the monopoly of no age, for it abides in ancient tradition and abounds in the latest developments of science. It is confined to no creed, no school of philosophy. The savage, bowing to his idol, strives to pronounce it and he whose loftiest intellectual flight is aided by heaven-pinioned Faith halts in its utterance. It is, in short, that portion of Absolute Truth which every man must seek and find for himself-that individual revelation from the Unerring and the All-Good."

Do you wonder that we make the search a part of the ritual? Or that we spend our lives in a search for such a worthy object?


The "Word" is found in some form in every degree in Masonry, and there is an inner explanation of every Masonic symbol which centers on a hidden Divine Word, which can only be found by the pure in heart after a diligent search, because it is not open to the superficial seeker. He may deny its existence, but either openly or in some cryptic message it is always present.

The candidate approaching the door of the Entered Apprentice lodge is in darkness, and receives light but par- tially upon his admission. He has however, laid the first stone in his Masonic edifice and receives some important knowledge upon which he may begin to build. In the Fellow Craft degree, he receives further instruction, particularly in the arts and sciences as applied to Masonry. In the Master's degree, he learns many thing of importance and is given a "substitute" word, with the information that a further search will well repay the time and effort. To the true seeker for knowledge there is no rest here. Study and time must be taken to assimilate the lessons presented and to conform his manner of life to meet their requirements. He then goes on and in the next degree, there is presented to him "a white stone, and in that stone a new name written, which no man knoweth save him that receiveth it." Then in the Most Excellent Master's degree he sees the culmination of the dream of the Jews; their Temple, with its magnificent furnishings; its altar; its Holy of Holies and the acceptance of this structure by the Most High God. Lastly comes the Royal Arch, the topmost pinnacle of his search and with it the fulfillment of the promise long ago made.


No man worthy of the "Name" can pass through these degrees without trying to make of himself something better. He must strive to conquer his faults and take unto himself the qualities which make a perfect man.

The Brahmans have a system whereby in introspection they hope to realize a state of perfection. They shut themselves off from the world and hope by intense thought to conquer self. No doubt this may help the individual but it is a selfish plan, and does not conform to our system of going out in the world as Master Masons to teach the uninformed, and to spread abroad a knowledge of the Craft. The Brahman, as well as many other systems of theology, is for the individual and not for others. It is not a true search for the Lost Word. The search means that we must seek to make ourselves worthy of the "Name," that we must remake our souls.

How challenging, how significant, how eloquent of many deep things of the soul, is this ancient search for the Divine Word, being as it is humanity's unconscious confession that in some manner it has lost out of its heart something holy and sacred and fine; that the great enterprise of life must be to recover the "Ineffable Name," and that if a man pursues the quest, he may, at last, find his way to that hallowed Holy of Holies where he may hear its mystic syllables. Strip the quest, as you may, of all its mythologies and baseless traditions, deprive it even of any historical basis at all, it will remain for us as the very symbol of man's age long search for God. What a search that has been!


Through the hills and valleys of years, through the days and nights of history, through wars and through peace, through life and through death, the human soul, unconquered, undismayed, holding fast to its native idealism, has been seeking through the shadows and the mists for that Lost Word which is God.

Thus it is that the ancient secret is, after all, an open secret, available to him who will make the quest and pay the price, for the "Word" is very near to you even in the heart. There is a spirit at the center of the soul which stands ready whenever you give Him free course with you to manifest the Divine Name, even that Lost Word which must forever remain lost to the worldly, to the selfish, the vain and the impure. But it may be found any day and any place by the simple, the innocent and the childlike or to those who sincerely desire to find it. It is an ideal for which we must search and if we earnestly seek to make ourselves worthy of that ideal, we will find the Lost Word.

Can we now wonder why the Royal Arch Degree is as it is, or why it was made the principal degree of Masonry?

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