the symbolism of freemasonry
albert gallatin mackey
I proceed, then, to inquire into the historical origin of Freemasonry,
as a necessary introduction to any inquiry into the character of its
symbolism. To do this, with any expectation of rendering justice to the
subject, it is evident that I shall have to take my point of departure at
a very remote era. I shall, however, review the early and antecedent
history of the institution with as much brevity as a distinct
understanding of the subject will admit.
Passing over all that is within the antediluvian history of the world,
as something that exerted, so far as our subject is concerned, no
influence on the new world which sprang forth from the ruins of the old,
we find, soon after the cataclysm, the immediate descendants of Noah in
the possession of at least two religious truths, which they received from
their common father, and which he must have derived from the line of
patriarchs who preceded him. These truths were the doctrine of the
existence of a Supreme Intelligence, the Creator, Preserver, and Ruler of
the Universe, and, as a necessary corollary, the belief in the immortality
of the soul1,
which, as an emanation from that primal cause, was to be distinguished, by
a future and eternal life, from the vile and perishable dust which forms
its earthly tabernacle.
The assertion that these doctrines were known to and recognized by Noah
will not appear as an assumption to the believer in divine revelation. But
any philosophic mind must, I conceive, come to the same conclusion,
independently of any other authority than that of reason.
The religious sentiment, so far, at least, as it relates to the belief
in the existence of God, appears to be in some sense innate, or
instinctive, and consequently universal in the human mind2.
There is no record of any nation, however intellectually and morally
debased, that has not given some evidence of a tendency to such belief.
The sentiment may be perverted, the idea may be grossly corrupted, but it
is nevertheless there, and shows the source whence it sprang3.
Even in the most debased forms of fetichism, where the negro kneels in
reverential awe before the shrine of some uncouth and misshapen idol,
which his own hands, perhaps, have made, the act of adoration, degrading
as the object may be, is nevertheless an acknowledgment of the longing
need of the worshipper to throw himself upon the support of some unknown
power higher than his own sphere. And this unknown power, be it what it
may, is to him a God.4
But just as universal has been the belief in the immortality of the
soul. This arises from the same longing in man for the infinite; and
although, like the former doctrine, it has been perverted and corrupted,
there exists among all nations a tendency to its acknowledgment. Every
people, from the remotest times, have wandered involuntarily into the
ideal of another world, and sought to find a place for their departed
spirits. The deification of the dead, man-worship, or hero-worship, the
next development of the religious idea after fetichism, was simply an
acknowledgment of the belief in a future life; for the dead could not have
been deified unless after death they had continued to live. The adoration
of a putrid carcass would have been a form of fetichism lower and more
degrading than any that has been discovered.
But man-worship came after fetichism. It was a higher development of
the religious sentiment, and included a possible hope for, if not a
positive belief in, a future life.
Reason, then, as well as revelation, leads us irresistibly to the
conclusion that these two doctrines prevailed among the descendants of
Noah, immediately after the deluge. They were believed, too, in all their
purity and integrity, because they were derived from the highest and
These are the doctrines which still constitute the creed of
Freemasonry; and hence one of the names bestowed upon the Freemasons from
the earliest times was that of the "Noachidae" or
"Noachites" that is to say, the descendants of Noah, and the
transmitters of his religious dogmas.
1. "The doctrine of the immortality of the soul, if it is a real
advantage, follows unavoidably from the idea of God. The best
Being, he must will the best of good things; the wisest, he
must devise plans for that effect; the most powerful, he must bring
it about. None can deny this."—THEO. PARKER, Discourse of Matters
pertaining to Religion, b. ii. ch. viii. p. 205.
2. "This institution of religion, like society, friendship, and
marriage, comes out of a principle, deep and permanent in the heart: as
humble, and transient, and partial institutions come out of humble,
transient, and partial wants, and are to be traced to the senses and the
phenomena of life, so this sublime, permanent, and useful institution came
out from sublime, permanent, and universal wants, and must be referred to
the soul, and the unchanging realities of life."—PARKER, Discourse of
Religion, b. i. ch. i. p. 14.
3. "The sages of all nations, ages, and religions had some ideas of
these sublime doctrines, though more or less degraded, adulterated and
obscured; and these scattered hints and vestiges of the most sacred and
exalted truths were originally rays and emanations of ancient and
primitive traditions, handed down from, generation to generation, since
the beginning of the world, or at least since the fall of man, to all
mankind."—CHEV. RAMSAY, Philos. Princ. of Nat. and Rev. Relig., vol
ii. p. 8.
4. "In this form, not only the common objects above enumerated, but
gems, metals, stones that fell from heaven, images, carved bits of wood,
stuffed skins of beasts, like the medicine-bags of the North American
Indians, are reckoned as divinities, and so become objects of adoration.
But in this case, the visible object, is idealized; not worshipped as the
brute thing really is, but as the type and symbol of God."—PARKER,
Disc. of Relig. b. i. ch. v. p. 50.
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