the symbolism of freemasonry
albert gallatin mackey
We have hitherto been engaged in the consideration of these simple
symbols, which appear to express one single and independent idea. They
have sometimes been called the "alphabet of Freemasonry," but improperly,
I think, since the letters of the alphabet have, in themselves, unlike
these masonic symbols, no significance, but are simply the component parts
of words, themselves the representatives of ideas.
These masonic symbols rather may be compared to the elementary
characters of the Chinese language, each of which denotes an idea; or,
still better, to the hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptians, in which one
object was represented in full by another which bore some subjective
relation to it, as the wind was represented by the wings of a bird, or
courage by the head and shoulders of a lion.
It is in the same way that in Masonry the plumb represents rectitude,
the level, human equality, and the trowel, concord or harmony. Each is, in
itself, independent, each expresses a single elementary idea.
But we now arrive at a higher division of masonic symbolism, which,
passing beyond these tangible symbols, brings us to those which are of a
more abstruse nature, and which, as being developed in a ceremonial form,
controlled and directed by the ritual of the order, may be designated as
the ritualistic symbolism of Freemasonry.
It is to this higher division that I now invite attention; and for the
purpose of exemplifying the definition that I have given, I shall select a
few of the most prominent and interesting ceremonies of the ritual.
Our first researches were into the symbolism of objects; our next will
be into the symbolism of ceremonies.
In the explanations which I shall venture to give of this ritualistic
symbolism, or the symbolism of ceremonies, a reference will constantly be
made to what has so often already been alluded to, namely, to the analogy
existing between the system of Freemasonry and the ancient rites and
Mysteries, and hence we will again develop the identity of their origin.
Each of the degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry contains some of these
ritualistic symbols: the lessons of the whole order are, indeed, veiled in
their allegoric clothing; but it is only to the most important that I can
find opportunity to refer. Such, among others, are the rites of
discalceation, of investiture, of circumambulation, and of intrusting.
Each of these will furnish an appropriate subject for consideration.
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