The Rite Of
Intrusting, And The Symbolism Of Light
the symbolism of freemasonry
albert gallatin mackey
The rite of intrusting, to which we are now to direct our
attention, will supply us with many important and interesting symbols.
There is an important period in the ceremony of masonic initiation,
when the candidate is about to receive a full communication of the
mysteries through which he has passed, and to which the trials and labors
which he has undergone can only entitle him. This ceremony is technically
called the "rite of intrusting," because it is then that the
aspirant begins to be intrusted with that for the possession of which he
It is equivalent to what, in the ancient Mysteries, was
called the "autopsy,"
96 or the seeing of what only the initiated
were permitted to behold.
This rite of intrusting is, of course, divided into several
parts or periods; for the aporreta, or secret things of Masonry,
are not to be given at once, but in gradual progression. It begins,
however, with the communication of LIGHT, which, although but a
preparation for the development of the mysteries which are to follow, must
be considered as one of the most important symbols in the whole science of
masonic symbolism. So important, indeed, is it, and so much does it
pervade with its influence and its relations the whole masonic system,
that Freemasonry itself anciently received, among other appellations, that
of Lux, or Light, to signify that it is to be regarded as that sublime
doctrine of Divine Truth by which the path of him who has attained it is
to be illuminated in his pilgrimage of life.
The Hebrew cosmogonist commences his description of the creation by the
declaration that "God said, Let there be light, and there was light"—a
phrase which, in the more emphatic form that it has received in the
original language of "Be light, and light was,"
97 is said to have won the praise, for its
sublimity, of the greatest of Grecian critics. "The singularly emphatic
summons," says a profound modern writer,98
"by which light is called into existence, is probably
owing to the preeminent utility and glory of that element, together with
its mysterious nature, which made it seem as
'The God of this new world,'
and won for it the earliest adoration of mankind."
Light was, in accordance with this old religious sentiment, the great
object of attainment in all the ancient religious Mysteries. It was there,
as it is now, in Masonry, made the symbol of truth and
knowledge. This was always its ancient symbolism, and we must never
lose sight of this emblematic meaning, when we are considering the nature
and signification of masonic light. When the candidate makes a demand for
light, it is not merely for that material light which is to remove a
physical darkness; that is only the outward form, which conceals the
inward symbolism. He craves an intellectual illumination which will dispel
the darkness of mental and moral ignorance, and bring to his view, as an
eye-witness, the sublime truths of religion, philosophy, and science,
which it is the great design of Freemasonry to teach.
In all the ancient systems this reverence for light, as the symbol of
truth, was predominant. In the Mysteries of every nation, the candidate
was made to pass, during his initiation, through scenes of utter darkness,
and at length terminated his trials by an admission to the
splendidly-illuminated sacellum, or sanctuary, where he was said to have
attained pure and perfect light, and where he received the necessary
instructions which were to invest him with that knowledge of the divine
truth which it had been the object of all his labors to gain, and the
design of the institution, into which he had been initiated, to bestow.
Light, therefore, became synonymous with truth and knowledge,
and darkness with falsehood and ignorance. We shall find this
symbolism pervading not only the institutions, but the very languages, of
Thus, among the Hebrews, the word AUR, in the singular, signified
light, but in the plural, AURIM, it denoted the revelation of the
divine will; and the aurim and thummim, literally the
lights and truths, constituted a part of the breastplate
whence the high priest obtained oracular responses to the questions which
There is a peculiarity about the word "light," in the old Egyptian
language, which is well worth consideration in this connection. Among the
Egyptians, the hare was the hieroglyphic of eyes that are open;
and it was adopted because that timid animal was supposed never to close
his organs of vision, being always on the watch for his enemies. The hare
was afterwards adopted by the priests as a symbol of the mental
illumination or mystic light which was revealed to the neophytes, in the
contemplation of divine truth, during the progress of their initiation;
and hence, according to Champollion, the hare was also the symbol of
Osiris, their chief god; thus showing the intimate connection which they
believed to exist between the process of initiation into their sacred
rites and the contemplation of the divine nature. But the Hebrew word for
hare is ARNaBeT. Now, this is compounded of the two words AUR,
light, and NaBaT, to behold, and therefore the word which in
the Egyptian denoted initiation, in the Hebrew signified to
behold the light. In two nations so intimately connected in history as
the Hebrew and the Egyptian, such a coincidence could not have been
accidental. It shows the prevalence of the sentiment, at that period, that
the communication of light was the prominent design of the Mysteries—so
prominent that the one was made the synonyme of the other.100
The worship of light, either in its pure essence or in the forms of
sun-worship and fire-worship, because the sun and the fire were causes of
light, was among the earliest and most universal superstitions of the
world. Light was considered as the primordial source of all that was holy
and intelligent; and darkness, as its opposite, was viewed as but another
name for evil and ignorance. Dr. Beard, in an article on this subject, in
Kitto's Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature, attributes this view of the
divine nature of light, which was entertained by the nations of the East,
to the fact that, in that part of the world, light "has a clearness and
brilliancy, is accompanied by an intensity of heat, and is followed in its
influence by a largeness of good, of which the inhabitants of less genial
climates have no conception. Light easily and naturally became, in
consequence, with Orientals, a representative of the highest human good.
All the more joyous emotions of the mind, all the pleasing sensations of
the frame, all the happy hours of domestic intercourse, were described
under imagery derived from light. The transition was natural—from earthly
to heavenly, from corporeal to spiritual things; and so light came to
typify true religion and the felicity which it imparts. But as light not
only came from God, but also makes man's way clear before him, so it was
employed to signify moral truth, and preëminently that divine system of
truth which is set forth in the Bible, from its earliest gleamings onward
to the perfect day of the Great Sun of Righteousness."
I am inclined to believe that in this passage the learned author has
erred, not in the definition of the symbol, but in his deduction of its
origin. Light became the object of religious veneration, not because of
the brilliancy and clearness of a particular sky, nor the warmth and
genial influence of a particular climate,—for the worship was universal,
in Scandinavia as in India,—but because it was the natural and inevitable
result of the worship of the sun, the chief deity of Sabianism—a faith
which pervaded to an extraordinary extent the whole religious sentiment of
Light was venerated because it was an emanation from the sun, and, in
the materialism of the ancient faith, light and darkness
were both personified as positive existences, the one being the enemy of
the other. Two principles were thus supposed to reign over the world,
antagonistic to each other, and each alternately presiding over the
destinies of mankind.102
The contests between the good and evil principle, symbolized by light
and darkness, composed a very large part of the ancient mythology in all
Among the Egyptians, Osiris was light, or the sun; and his arch-enemy,
Typhon, who ultimately destroyed him, was the representative of darkness.
Zoroaster, the father of the ancient Persian religion, taught the same
doctrine, and called the principle of light, or good, Ormuzd, and the
principle of darkness, or evil, Ahriman. The former, born of the purest
light, and the latter, sprung from utter darkness, are, in this mythology,
continually making war on each other.
Manes, or Manichaeus, the founder of the sect of Manichees, in the
third century, taught that there are two principles from which all things
proceed; the one is a pure and subtile matter, called Light, and the other
a gross and corrupt substance, called Darkness. Each of these is subject
to the dominion of a superintending being, whose existence is from all
eternity. The being who presides over the light is called God; he
that rules over the darkness is called Hyle, or Demon. The
ruler of the light is supremely happy, good, and benevolent, while the
ruler over darkness is unhappy, evil, and malignant.
Pythagoras also maintained this doctrine of two antagonistic
principles. He called the one, unity, light, the right hand,
equality, stability, and a straight line; the other he named binary,
darkness, the left hand, inequality, instability, and a curved
line. Of the colors, he attributed white to the good principle, and black
to the evil one.
The Cabalists gave a prominent place to light in their system of
cosmogony. They taught that, before the creation of the world, all space
was filled with what they called Aur en soph, or the Eternal
Light, and that when the Divine Mind determined or willed the
production of Nature, the Eternal Light withdrew to a central point,
leaving around it an empty space, in which the process of creation went on
by means of emanations from the central mass of light. It is unnecessary
to enter into the Cabalistic account of creation; it is sufficient here to
remark that all was done through the mediate influence of the Aur en
soph, or eternal light, which produces coarse matter, but one degree
above nonentity, only when it becomes so attenuated as to be lost in
The Brahminical doctrine was, that "light and darkness are esteemed the
world's eternal ways; he who walketh in the former returneth not; that is
to say, he goeth to eternal bliss; whilst he who walketh in the latter
cometh back again upon earth," and is thus destined to pass through
further transmigrations, until his soul is perfectly purified by light.103
In all the ancient systems of initiation the candidate was shrouded in
darkness, as a preparation for the reception of light. The duration varied
in the different rites. In the Celtic Mysteries of Druidism, the period in
which the aspirant was immersed in darkness was nine days and nights;
among the Greeks, at Eleusis, it was three times as long; and in the still
severer rites of Mithras, in Persia, fifty days of darkness, solitude, and
fasting were imposed upon the adventurous neophyte, who, by these
excessive trials, was at length entitled to the full communication of the
light of knowledge.
Thus it will be perceived that the religious sentiment of a good and an
evil principle gave to darkness, in the ancient symbolism, a place equally
as prominent as that of light.
The same religious sentiment of the ancients, modified, however, in its
details, by our better knowledge of divine things, has supplied
Freemasonry with a double symbolism—that of Light and
Darkness is the symbol of initiation. It is intended to remind the
candidate of his ignorance, which Masonry is to enlighten; of his evil
nature, which Masonry is to purify; of the world, in whose obscurity he
has been wandering, and from which Masonry is to rescue him.
Light, on the other hand, is the symbol of the autopsy, the sight of
the mysteries, the intrusting, the full fruition of masonic truth and
Initiation precedes the communication of knowledge in Masonry, as
darkness preceded light in the old cosmogonies. Thus, in Genesis, we see
that in the beginning "the world was without form, and void, and darkness
was on the face of the deep." The Chaldean cosmogony taught that in the
beginning "all was darkness and water." The Phoenicians supposed that "the
beginning of all things was a wind of black air, and a chaos dark as
But out of all this darkness sprang forth light, at the divine command,
and the sublime phrase, "Let there be light," is repeated, in some
substantially identical form, in all the ancient histories of creation.
So, too, out of the mysterious darkness of Masonry comes the full blaze
of masonic light. One must precede the other, as the evening preceded the
morning. "So the evening and the morning were the first day."
This thought is preserved in the great motto of the Order, "Lux e
tenebris"—Light out of darkness. It is equivalent to this other
sentence: Truth out of initiation. Lux, or light, is truth;
tenebrae, or darkness, is initiation.
It is a beautiful and instructive portion of our symbolism, this
connection of darkness and light, and well deserves a further
"Genesis and the cosmogonies," says Portal, "mention the antagonism of
light and darkness. The form of this fable varies according to each
nation, but the foundation is everywhere the same. Under the symbol of the
creation of the world it presents the picture of regeneration and
Plutarch says that to die is to be initiated into the greater
Mysteries; and the Greek word τελευτᾷν, which signifies to die,
means also to be initiated. But black, which is the symbolic color
of darkness, is also the symbol of death. And hence, again, darkness, like
death, is the symbol of initiation. It was for this reason that all the
ancient initiations were performed at night. The celebration of the
Mysteries was always nocturnal. The same custom prevails in Freemasonry,
and the explanation is the same. Death and the resurrection were taught in
the Mysteries, as they are in Freemasonry. The initiation was the lesson
of death. The full fruition or autopsy, the reception of light, was the
lesson of regeneration or resurrection.
Light is, therefore, a fundamental symbol in Freemasonry. It is, in
fact, the first important symbol that is presented to the neophyte in his
instructions, and contains within itself the very essence of Speculative
Masonry, which is nothing more than the contemplation of intellectual
light or truth.106
95. Dr. Oliver,
referring to the "twelve grand points in Masonry," which formed a part of
the old English lectures, says, "When the candidate was intrusted,
he represented Asher, for he was then presented with the glorious fruit of
masonic knowledge, as Asher was represented by fatness and royal
dainties."—Hist. Landm., vol. i. lect. xi. p. 313.
96. From the Greek
αὐτοψία, signifying a seeing with ones own eyes. The candidate, who
had previously been called a mystes, or a blind man, from
μίω, to shut the eyes, began at this point to change his title to
that of an epopt, or an
97. יהי אדך ויהי אדך
Yehi aur va yehi aur.
98. Robert William
Mackay, Progress of the Intellect, vol. i. p. 93.
99. "And thou shalt put
in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim."—Exod.
xxviii. 30.—The Egyptian judges also wore breastplates, on which was
represented the figure of Ra, the sun, and Thme, the goddess
of Truth, representing, says Gliddon, "Ra, or the sun, in a double
capacity—physical and intellectual light; and Thme, in a double
capacity—justice and truth."—Ancient Egypt, p. 33.
100. We owe this
interesting discovery to F. Portal, who has given it in his elaborate work
on Egyptian symbols as compared with those of the Hebrews. To those who
cannot consult the original work in French, I can safely recommend the
excellent translation by my esteemed friend, Bro. John W. Simons, of New
York, and which will be found in the thirtieth volume of the "Universal
101. "The most early
defection to Idolatry," says Bryant, "consisted in the adoration of the
sun and the worship of demons, styled Baalim."—Analysts of Anc. Mythol.
vol. iii. p. 431.
102. The remarks of
Mr. Duncan on this subject are well worth perusal. "Light has always
formed one of the primary objects of heathen adoration. The glorious
spectacle of animated nature would lose all its interest if man were
deprived of vision, and light extinguished; for that which is unseen and
unknown becomes, for all practical purposes, as valueless as if it were
non-existent. Light is a source of positive happiness; without it, man
could barely exist; and since all religious opinion is based on the ideas
of pleasure and pain, and the corresponding sensations of hope and fear,
it is not to be wondered if the heathen reverenced light. Darkness, on the
contrary, by replunging nature, as it were, into a state of nothingness,
and depriving man of the pleasurable emotions conveyed through the organ
of sight, was ever held in abhorrence, as a source of misery and fear. The
two opposite conditions in which man thus found himself placed, occasioned
by the enjoyment or the banishment of light, induced him to imagine the
existence of two antagonist principles in nature, to whose dominion he was
alternately subject. Light multiplied his enjoyments, and darkness
diminished them. The former, accordingly, became his friend, and the
latter his enemy. The words 'light' and 'good,' and 'darkness' and 'evil,'
conveyed similar ideas, and became, in sacred language, synonymous terms.
But as good and evil were not supposed to flow from one and the same
source, no more than light and darkness were supposed to have a common
origin, two distinct and independent principles were established, totally
different in their nature, of opposite characters, pursuing a conflicting
line of action, and creating antagonistic effects. Such was the origin of
this famous dogma, recognized by all the heathens, and incorporated with
all the sacred fables, cosmogonies, and mysteries of antiquity."—The
Religions of Profane Antiquity, p. 186.
103. See the "Bhagvat
Geeta," one of the religious books of Brahminism. A writer in Blackwood,
in an article on the "Castes and Creeds of India," vol. lxxxi. p. 316,
thus accounts for the adoration of light by the early nations of the
world: "Can we wonder at the worship of light by those early nations?
Carry our thoughts back to their remote times, and our only wonder would
be if they did not so adore it. The sun is life as well as light to all
that is on the earth—as we of the present day know even better than they
of old. Moving in dazzling radiance or brilliant-hued pageantry through
the sky, scanning in calm royalty all that passes below, it seems the very
god of this fair world, which lives and blooms but in his smile."
Institutes of Menu, which are the acknowledged code of the Brahmins,
inform us that "the world was all darkness, undiscernible,
undistinguishable altogether, as in a profound sleep, till the
self-existent, invisible God, making it manifest with five elements and
other glorious forms, perfectly dispelled the gloom."—Sir WILLIAM JONES,
On the Gods of Greece. Asiatic Researches, i. 244.
Among the Rosicrucians, who have, by some, been improperly confounded
with the Freemasons, the word lux was used to signify a knowledge
of the philosopher's stone, or the great desideratum of a universal elixir
and a universal menstruum. This was their truth.
105. On Symbolic
Colors, p. 23, Inman's translation.
having received the name of lux, or light, its disciples have, very
appropriately, been called "the Sons of Light." Thus Burns, in his
"Oft have I met your social band,
And spent the cheerful, festive
Oft, honored with supreme command,
Presided o'er the
sons of light."
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