The Builders – A Story and Study of Masonry
Joseph Fort Newton (1914)
PART I – THE PROPHECY
CHAPTER I – The Foundation
By Symbols is man guided and commanded, made happy, made wretched. He everywhere finds himself encompassed with Symbols, recognized as such or not recognized: the Universe is but one vast Symbol of God; nay, if thou wilt have it, what is man himself but a Symbol of God; is not all that he does symbolical; a revelation to Sense of the mystic God-given force that is in him; a Gospel of Freedom, which he, the Messiah of nature, preaches, as he can, by words and act? Not a hut he builds but is the visible embodiment of a Thought; but bears visible record of invisible things, but is, in the transcendental sense, symbolical as well as real. – Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus
Two arts have altered the face of the earth and given shape to the life and thought of man, Agriculture and Architecture. Of the two, it would be hard to know which has been the more intimately interwoven with the inner life of humanity; for man is not only a planter and a builder, but a mystic and a thinker. For such a being, especially in primitive times, any work was something more than itself; it was a truth found out. In becoming useful it attained some form, enshrining at once a thought and a mystery. Our present study has to do with the second of these arts, which has been called the matrix of civilization.
When we inquire into origins and seek the initial force which carried art forward, we find two fundamental factors – physical necessity and spiritual a mystery. Of course, the first great impulse of all architecture was need, honest response to the demand for shelter; but this demand included a Home for the Soul, not less than a roof over the head.
Even in this response to primary need there was something spiritual which carried it beyond provision for the body; as the men of Egypt, for instance, wanted an indestructible resting-place, and so built the pyramids. As Capart says, prehistoric art shows that this utilitarian purpose was in almost every case blended with a religious, or at least a magical, purpose ( Primitive Art in Egypt).
The spiritual instinct, in seeking to recreate types and to set up more sympathetic relations with the universe, led to imitation, to ideas of proportion, to the passion for beauty, and to the effort after perfection.
Man has been always a builder, and nowhere has he shown himself more significantly than in the buildings he has erected. When we stand before them – whether it be a mud hut, the house of a cliff-dweller stuck like the nest of a swallow on the side of a canyon, a Pyramid, a Parthenon, or a Pantheon – we seem to read into his soul. The builder may have gone, perhaps ages before, but here he has left something of himself, his hopes, his fears, his ideas, his dreams. Even in the remote recesses of the Andes, amidst the riot of nature, and where man is now a mere savage, we come upon the remains of vast, vanished civilizations, where art and science and religion reached unknown heights.
Wherever humanity has lived and wrought, we find the crumbling ruins of towers, temples, and tombs, monuments of its industry and its aspiration. Also, whatever else man may have been – cruel, tyrannous, vindictive – his buildings always have reference to religion. They bespeak a vivid sense of the Unseen and his awareness of his relation to it. Of a truth, the story of the Tower of Babel is more than a myth. Man has ever been trying to build to heaven, embodying his prayer and his dream in brick and stone.
For there are two sets of realities – material and spiritual – but they are so interwoven that all practical laws are exponents of moral laws. Such is the thesis which Ruskin expounds with so much insight and eloquence in his Seven Lamps of Architecture, in which he argues that the laws of architecture are moral laws, as applicable to the building of character as to the construction of cathedrals. He finds those laws to be Sacrifice, Truth, Power, Beauty, Life, Memory, and, as the crowning grace of all, that principle to which Polity owes its stability, Life its happiness, Faith its acceptance, and Creation its continuance – Obedience. He holds that there is no such thing as liberty, and never can be. The stars have it not; the earth has it not; the sea has it not. Man fancies that he has freedom, but if he would use the word Loyalty instead of Liberty, he would be nearer the truth, since it is by obedience to the laws of life and truth and beauty that he attains to what he calls liberty.
Throughout that brilliant essay, Ruskin shows how the violation of moral laws spoils the beauty of architecture, mars its usefulness, and makes it unstable. He points out, with all the variations of emphasis, illustration, and appeal, that beauty is what is imitated from natural forms, consciously or unconsciously, and that what is not so derived, but depends for its dignity upon arrangement received from the human mind, expresses, while it reveals, the quality of the mind, whether it be noble or ignoble. Thus:
All building, therefore, shows man either as gathering or governing; and the secrets of his success are his knowing what to gather and how to rule. These are the two great intellectual Lamps of Architecture; the one consisting in a just and humble veneration of the works of God upon earth, and the other in an understanding of the dominion over those works which has been vested in man. (Chapter III, aphorism 2)
What our great prophet of art thus elaborated so eloquently, the early men forefelt by instinct, dimly it may be, but not less truly. If architecture was born of need it soon showed its magic quality, and all true building touched depths of feeling and opened gates of wonder. No doubt the men who first balanced one stone over two others must have looked with astonishment at the work of their hands, and have worshiped the stones they had set up. This element of mystical wonder and awe lasted long through the ages, and is still felt when work is done in the old way by keeping close to nature, necessity, and faith. From the first, ideas of sacredness, of sacrifice, of ritual rightness, of magic stability, of likeness to the universe, of perfection of form and guided and proportion glowed in the heart of the builder, his arm. Wren, philosopher as he was, decided that the delight of man in setting up columns was acquired through worshiping in the groves of the forest; and modern research has come to much the same view, for Sir Arthur Evans shows that in the first European age columns were gods. All over Europe the early morning of architecture was spent in the worship of great stones. (Architecture, by Lethaby, chap. I)
If we go to old Egypt, where the art of building seems to have gathered power, and where its remains are best preserved, we may read the ideas of the earliest artists. Long before the dynastic period a strong people inhabited the land who developed many arts which they handed on to the pyramid-builders. Although only semi-naked savages using flint instruments in a style much like the bushmen, they were the root, so to speak, of a wonderful artistic stock. Of the Egyptians Herodotus said, “‘they gather the fruits of the earth with less labor than any other people.” With agriculture and settled life came trade and stored-up energy which might essay to improve on caves and pits and other rude dwellings. By the Nile, perhaps, man first aimed to overpass the routine of the barest need, and obey his soul. There he wrought out beautiful vases of fine marble, and invented square building.
At any rate, the earliest known structure actually discovered, a prehistoric tomb found in the sands at Hieraconpolis, is already right-angled. As Lethaby reminds us, modern people take squareness very much for granted as being a self-evident form, but the discovery of the square was a great step in geometry. (Architecture, by Lethaby, chap II)
It opened a new era in the story of the builders. Early inventions must have seemed like revelations, as indeed they were; and it is not strange that skilled craftsmen were looked upon as magicians. If man knows as much as he does, the discovery of the Square was a great event to the primitive mystics of the Nile. Very early it became an emblem of truth, justice, and righteousness, and so it remains to this day though uncountable ages have passed. Simple, familiar, eloquent, it brings from afar a sense of the wonder of the dawn, and it still teaches a lesson which we find it hard to learn. So also the cube, the compasses, and the keystone, each a great advance for those to whom architecture was indeed “building touched with emotion, as showing that its laws are the laws of the Eternal.
Maspero tells us that the temples of Egypt, even from earliest times, were built in the image of the as the earth as the builders had imagined it. ( Dawn of Civilization) For them the earth was a sort of flat slab more long than wide and the sky was a ceiling or vault supported by four great pillars. The pavement represented the earth; the four angles stood for the pillars; the ceiling, more often flat, though sometimes curved, corresponded to the sky. From the pavement grew vegetation, and water plants emerged from the water;
while the ceiling, painted dark blue, was strewn with stars of five points. Sometimes, the sun and moon were seen floating on the heavenly ocean escorted by the constellations, and the months and days. There was a far withdrawn holy place, small and obscure, approached through a succession of courts and columned halls, all so arranged on a central axis as to point to the sunrise. Before the outer gates were obelisks and avenues of statues. Such were the shrines of the old solar religion, so oriented that on one day in the year the beams of the rising sun, or of some bright star that hailed his coming, should stream down the nave and illumine the alter. (Dawn of Astronomy, Norman Lockyear.)
Clearly, one ideal of the early builders was that of sacrifice, as seen in their use of the finest materials; and another was accuracy of workmanship. Indeed, not a little of the earliest work displayed an astonishing technical ability, and such work must point to some underlying idea which the workers sought to realize. Above all things they sought permanence. In later inscriptions relating to buildings, phrases like these occur frequently: “it is such as the heavens in all its quarters;” “firm as the heavens.” Evidently the basic idea was that, as the heavens were stable, not to be moved, so a building put into proper relation with the universe would acquire magical stability. It is recorded that when Ikhnaton founded his new city, four boundary stones were accurately placed, that so it might be exactly square, and thus endure forever. Eternity was the ideal aimed at, everything else being sacrificed for that aspiration.
How well they realized their dream is. shown us in the Pyramids, of all monuments of mankind the oldest, the most technically perfect, the largest, and the most mysterious. Ages come and go, empires rise and fall, philosophies flourish and fail, and man seeks him out many inventions, but they stand silent under the bright Egyptian night, as fascinating as the are baffling. An obelisk is simply a pyramid, albeit the base has become a shaft, holding aloft the oldest emblems of solar faith B a Triangle mounted on a Square. When and why this figure. became holy one knows, save as we may conjecture that it was one of those sacred stones which gained its sanctity in times far back of all recollection and tradition of the Ka’aba at Mecca. Whether it be an imitation of the triangle of zodiacal light, seen at certain the eastern sky at sunrise and sun set, or a feat of masonry used as a symbol of Heaven, as the Square was an emblem of Earth, no one may affirm. (Churchward, in his Signs and Symbols of Primordial Man (chap. xv), holds that the pyramid was typical of heaven, Shu, standing on seven steps, having lifted the sky from the earth in the form of a triangle; and that at each point stood one of the gods, Sut and Shu at the base, the apex being the Pole Star where Horus of the Horizon had his throne. This is, in so far, true; but the pyramid emblem was older than Osiris, Isis, and Horus, and runs back into an obscurity beyond knowledge.. In the Pyramid Texts the Sun god, when he created all the other gods, is shown sitting on the apex of the sky in the form of a Phoenix – that Supreme God to whom two architects, Suti and Hor, wrote so noble a hymn of praise. (Religion and Thought in Egypt, by Breasted, lecture ix)
White with the worship of ages, ineffably beautiful and pathetis, is the old light- religion of humanity – a sublime nature-mysticism in which Light was love and life, and Darkness evil and death. For the early man light was the mother of beauty, the unveiler of color, the elusive and radiant mystery of the world, and his speech about it was reverent and grateful. At the gates of the morning he stood with uplifted hands, and the sun sinking in the desert at eventide made him wistful in prayer, half fear and half hope, lest the beauty return no more. His religion, when he emerged from the night of animalism, was a worship of the Light – his temple hung with stars, his altar a glowing flame, his ritual a woven hymn of night and day. No poet of our day, not even Shelley, has written lovelier lyrics in praise of the Light than those hymns of Ikhnaton in the morning of the world. (Ikhnaton, indeed, was a grand, solitary, shining figure, “the first idealist in history,” and a poetic thinker in whom the religion of Egypt attained its highest reach. Dr. Breasted puts his lyrics alongside the poems of Wordsworth and the great Passage of Ruskin in Modern Painter, as celebrating the divinity of Light (Religion and Thought in Egypt, lecture ix). Despite the revenge of his enemies, he stands out as a lonely, heroic, prophetic soul B “the first individual in time.”) Memories of this religion of the dawn linger with us today in the faith that follows the Day-Star from on high, and the Sun of Righteousness – One who is the Light of the World in life, and the Lamp of Poor souls in the night of death.
Here, then, are the real foundations of Masonry, both material and moral: in the deep need and aspiration of man, and his creative impulse; in his instinctive Faith, his quest of the Ideal, and his love of the Light. Underneath all his building lay the feeling, prophetic of his last and highest thought, that the earthly house of his life should be in right relation with its heavenly prototype, the world-temple – imitating on earth the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. If he erected a square temple, it was an image of the earth; if he build a pyramid, it was a picture of a beauty shown him in the sky; as, later, his cathedral was modeled after the mountain, and its dim and lofty arch a memory of the forest vista – its altar a fireside of the soul, its spire a prayer in stone. And as he wrought his faith and dream into reality, it was but natural that the tools of the builder should become emblems of the thoughts of the thinker. Not only his tools, but, as we shall see, the very stones with which he worked became sacred symbols – the temple itself a vision of that House of Doctrine, that Home of the Soul, which, though unseen, he is building in the midst of the years.
CHAPTER II – The Working Tools
It began to shape itself to my intellectual vision into something more imposing and majestic, solemnly mysterious and grand. It seemed to me like the Pyramids in their loneliness, in whose yet undiscovered chambers may be hidden, for the enlightenment of coming generations, the sacred books of the Egyptians, so long lost to the world; like the Sphynz half buried in the desert.
In its symbolism, which and its spirit of brotherhood are its essence, Freemasonry is more ancient than any of the world’s living religions. It has the symbols and doctrines which, older than himself, Zarathrustra inculcated; and it seemed to me a spectacle sublime, yet pitiful B the ancient Faith of our ancestors holding out to the world its symbols once so eloquent, and mutely and in vain asking for an interpreter.
And so I came at last to see that the true greatness and majesty of Freemasonry consist in its proprietorship of these and its other symbols; and that its symbolism is its soul. – Albert Pike, Letter to Gould
Never were truer words than those of Goethe in the last lines of Faust, and they echo one of the oldest instincts of humanity: All things transitory but as symbols are sent. From the be grinning man has divined that the things open to his senses are more than mere facts, having other and hidden meanings. The whole world was close to him as an infinite parable, a mystical and prophetic scroll the lexicon of which he set himself to find. Both he and his world were so made as to convey a sense of doubleness, of high truth hinted in humble, nearby things. No smallest thing but had its skyey aspect which, by his winged and quick-sighed fancy, he sought to surprise and grasp.
Let us acknowledge that man was born a poet, his mind a chamber of imagery, his world a gallery of art. Despite his utmost efforts, he can in nowise strip his thought of the flowers and fruits that cling to it, withered though they often are. As a fact, he has ever been a citizen of two worlds, using the scenery of the visible to make vivid the realities of the world Unseen. What wonder, then, that trees grew in his fancy, flowers bloomed in his faith, and the victory of spring over winter gave him hope of life after death, while the march of the sun and the great stars invited him to “thoughts that wander through eternity.” Symbol was his native tongue, symbolism his first form of speech – as, indeed, it is his last – whereby he was able to say what else he could not have uttered. Such is the fact, and even the language in which we state it is “a dictionary of faded metaphors,” the fossil poetry of ages ago.
That picturesque and variegated maze of the early symbolism of the race we cannot study in detail, tempting as it is. Indeed, so luxuriant was that old picture-language that we may easily miss our way and get lost in the labyrinth, unless we keep to the right path. (There are many books in this field, but two may be named: The Lost Language of Symbolism, by Bayley, and the Signs and Symbols of Primordial Man by Churchward, each in its own way remarkable. The first aspires to be for this field what Frazer’s Golden Bough is for religious anthropology, and its dictum is: “Beauty is Truth; Truth Beauty.” The thesis of the second is that Masonry is founded upon Egyptian eschatology, which may be true; but unfortunately the book is too polemical. Both hooks partake of the poetry, if not the confusion, of the subject; but not for a world of dust would one clip their wings of fancy and suggestion. Indeed, their union of scholarship and poetry is unique. When the pains or erudition fail to track a fact to its lair, they do not scruple to use the divining rod; and the result often passes out of the realm of pedestrian chronicle into the world of winged literature.) First of all, throughout this study of prophecy let us keep ever in mind a very simple and obvious fact, albeit not less wonderful because obvious. Socrates made the discovery – perhaps the greatest ever made – that human nature is universal By his searching questions he found out that when men think round a problem, and think deeply, they disclose a common nature and a common system of truth. So there dawned upon him, from this fact, the truth of the kinship of mankind and the unity of mind. His insight is confirmed many times over, whether we study the earliest gropings of the human mind or set the teachings of the sages side by side. Always we find, after comparison, that the final conclusions of the wisest minds as to the meaning of life and the world are harmonious, if not identical.
He is the clue to the striking resemblances between the faiths and philosophies of widely separated peoples, and it makes them intelligible while adding to their picturesqueness and philosophic interest. By the same token, we begin to understand why the same signs, symbols, and emblems were used by all people to express their earliest aspiration and thought. We need not infer that one people learned them from another, or that there existed mystic; universal order which had them in keeping. They simply betray the unity of the human mind, and show how and why, at the same stage of culture, races far removed from each other came to the same conclusions and used much the same symbols to body forth their thought. Illustrations are innumerable, of which a few may be named as examples of this unity both of idea and of emblem, and also as confirming the insight of the great Greek that, however shallow minds may differ, in the end all seekers after truth follow a common path, comrades in one great quest.
An example in point, as ancient as it is eloquent, is the idea of the trinity and its emblem, the triangle. What the human thought of God is depends on what power of the mind or aspect of life man uses as a lens through which to look into the mystery of things. Conceived of as the will of the world, God is one, and we have the monotheism of Moses. Seen through instinct and the kaleidoscope of the senses, God is multiple, and the result is polytheism and its gods without number. For the reason, God is a dualism made up of matter and mind, as in the faith of Zoroaster and many other cults. But when the social life of man becomes the prism of faith, God is a trinity of Father, Mother, Child. Almost as old as human thought, we find the idea of the trinity and its triangle emblem everywhere – Siva, Vishnu, and Brahma in India corresponding to Osiris, and Horus in Egypt. No doubt this idea underlay the old pyramid emblem, at each cor ner of which stood one of the gods. No missionary carried this profound truth over the earth. It grew out of a natural and universal human experience, and is explained by the fact of the unity of the human mind and its vision of God through the family.
Other emblems take us back into an antiquity so remote that we seem to be walking in the shadow of prehistoric time. Of these, the mysterious Swastika is perhaps the oldest, as it is certainly the most widely distributed over the earth. As much a talisman as a symbol, it has been found on Chaldean bricks, among the ruins of the city of Troy, in Egypt, on vases of ancient Cyprus, on Hittite remains and the pottery of the Etruscans, in the cave temples of India, on Roman altars and Runic monuments in Britain, in Thibet, China, and Korea, in Mexico, Peru, and among the prehistoric burial grounds of North Amerka. There have been many interpretations of it. Perhaps the meaning most usually assigned to it is that of the Sanskrit word having in it. roots an intimation of the beneficence of life, to be and well. As such, it is a sign indicating that the maze of life may bewilder, but a path Of light rims through it: It is well is the name of the path, and the key to life eternal is in the strange labyrinth for those whom God leadeth. (The Word in the Pattern, Mrs. G. F. Watts.) Others hold it to have been an emblem of the Pole Star whose stability in the sky, and the procession of the Ursa Major around it, so impressed the ancient world. Men saw the sun journeying across the heavens every day in a slightly different track then standing still, as it were, at the solstice, and then returning On its way back. They saw the moon Changing not only its orbit, but its size and shape and time of appearing. Only the Pole Star remained fixed. and stable, and it became, not unnaturally, a light of assurance and the footstool of the Most High. (The Swastika, Thomas Carr. See essay by the same writer in which he shows that the Swastika is the symbol of the Supreme Architect of the Universe among Operative Masons today (The Lodge of Research, No.2429, Transactions, 1911-12).) Whatever its meaning, the Swastika shows us the efforts of the early man to read the riddle of things, and his intuition of a love at the heart of life.
Akin to the Swastika, if not an evolution from it, was the Cross, made forever holy by the highest heroism of Love. When man climbed up out of the primeval night, with his face to heaven upturned, he had a cross in his hand. Where he got it, why he held it, and what he meant by it, no one can conjecture much less affirm. (Signs and Symbols, Churchward, chap. xvii.) Itself a paradox, its arms pointing to the four quarters of the earth, it is found in almost every part of the world carved on coins, altars, and tombs, and furnishing a design for temple architecture in Mexico and Peru, in the pagodas of India, not less than in the churches of Christ. Ages before our era, even from the remote time of the cliff-dweller, the Cross seems to have been a symbol of life, though for what reason no one knows. More often it was an emblem of eternal life, specially when inclosed within a Circle which ends not, nor begins – the type of Eternity. Hence the Ank Cross or Crux Ansata of Egypt, scepter of the Lord of the Dead that never die. There is less mystery about the Circle, which was an image of the desk of the Sun and a natural symbol of completeness, of eternity. With a point within the center it became, as naturally, the emblem of the Eye of the World – that All-seeing eye of the eternal Watcher of the human scene.
Square, triangle, cross, circle – oldest symbols of humanity, all of them eloquent, each of them pointing beyond itself, as symbols always do, while giving form to the invisible truth which they invoke and seek to embody. They are beautiful if we have eyes to see, serving not merely as chance figures of fancy, but as forms of reality as it revealed itself to the mind of man. Sometimes we find them united, the square within the Circle, and within that the Triangle, and at the center the Cross. Earliest of emblems, they show us hints and foregleams of the highest faith and philosophy, betraying not only the unity of the human mind but its kinship with the Eternal – the fact which lies at the root of every religion, and is the basis of each. Upon this Faith man builded, finding a rock beneath, refusing to think of Death as the gigantic coffin-lid of a dull and mindless universe descending upon him at last.
From this brief outlook upon a wide field, we may pass to a more specific and detailed study of the early prophecies of Masonry in the art of the builder. Always the symbolic must follow the actual, if it is to have reference and meaning, and the real is ever the basis of the ideal. By nature an Idealist, and living in a world of radiant mystery, it was wevitable that man should attach moral and spiritual meanings to the tools, laws, and materials of building. Even so, in almost every land and in the remotest ages we find great and beautiful truth hovering about the builder and clinging to his tools. (Here again the literature is voluminous, but not entirely satisfactory. A most interesting book is Signs and Symbols of Primordial Man, by Churchward, in that it surveys the symbolism of the race always with reference to its Masonic suggestion. Vivid and popular is Symbols and Legends of Freemasonry by Finlayson, but he often strains facts in order to stretch them over wide gaps of time. Dr. Mackey’s Symbolism. of Freemasonry, though written more than sixty years ago, remains a classic of the order. Unfortunately the lectures of Albert Pike on Symbolism are not accessible to general reader, for they are rich mines of insight and scholarship, albeit betraying his partisanship of the Indo-Aryan race. Many minor books might be named, but we need a work brought up to date and written in the light of recent research.) Whether there were organized orders of builders in the early times no one can tell, though there may have been. No matter; man mixed thought and worship with his work, and as he cut his altar stones and fitted them together he thought out a faith by which to live.
Not unnaturally, in times when the earth was thought to be a Square the Cube had emblematical meanings it could hardly have for us. From earliest ages it was a venerated symbol, and the oblong cube signified immensity of space from the base of earth to the zenith of the heavens. It was a sacred emblem the Lydian Kubele, known to the Romans in after ages as Ceres or Cybele – hence, as some aver, the derivation Of the word “cube.” At first rough stones were most sacred, and an altar of hewn stones was forbidden. (Exod. 20:25 With the advent of the cut cube the temple became known as the House of the Hammer – its altar, always in the center, being in the form of a cube and regarded as “an index or emblem of Truth, ever true to itself.” ) (Antiquities of Cornwall, Borlase) Indeed, the cube, as Plutarch points out in his essay On the Cessation of Oracles, “is palpably the proper emblem of rest, on account of the security and firmness of the superficies.” He further tells us that the pyramid is an image of the triangular flame ascending from a square altar; and since no one knows, his guess is as good as any. At any rate, Mercury, Apollo, Neptune, and Hercules were worshiped under the form of a square stone, while a large black stone was the emblem of Buddha among the Hindoos, of Manah Theus-Ceres in Arabia, and of Odin in Scandinavia. Everyone knows of the Stone of Memnon in Egypt, which was said to speak at sunrise B as, in truth, all stones spoke to man in the sunrise of time. (Lost Language of Symbolism, Bayley, chap. xviii; also in the Bible, Deut. 32:18, II Sam. 22:3, 32, Psa. 28:1, Matt. 16:18, I Cor. 10:4.)
More eloquent, if possible, was the Pillar uplifted, like the pillars of the gods upholding the heavens. Whatever may have been the origin of pillars, and there is more than one theory, Evans has shown that they were everywhere worshiped as gods. (Tree and Pillar Cult, Sir Arthur Evaus) Indeed, the gods themselves were pillars of Light and Power, as in Egypt Horus and Sut were the twin-builders and supporters of heaven; and Bacchus among the Thebans. At the entrance of the temple of Amenta, at the door of the house of Ptah – as, later, in the porch of the temple of Solomon – stood two pillars. Still further back, in the old solar myths, at the gateway of eternity stood two pillars – Strength and Wisdom. In India, and among the Mayas and Incas, there were three pillars at the portals of the earthly and skyey temple – Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty. When man set up a pillar, he came a fellow-worker with Him whom the old sages of China used to call “the first Builder. Also, pillars were set up to mark the holy places of vision and Divine deliverance, as when Jacob erected a pillar at Bethel, Joshua at Gilgal, and Samuel at Mizpeh and Shen. Always they were symbol of stability, of what the Egyptians described as “the place of establishing forever,” – emblems of the faith “that the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and He hath set the world upon them.” (I Sam. 2:8, Psa. 75:8, Job 26:7, Rev. 3:12)
Long before our era we find the working tools of the Mason used as emblems of the very truths which they teach today. In the oldest classic of China, The Book of History, dating back to the twentieth century before Christ, we read the instruction: “Ye officers of the Government, apply the compasses.” Even if we begin where The Book of History ends, we find many such allusions more than seven hundred years before the Christian era. For example, in the famous canonical work, called The Great Learning, which has been referred to the fifth century B. C., we read, that a man should abstain from doing unto others what he would not they should do to him; “and this,” the writer adds, “is called the principle of acting on the square.” So also Confucius and his great follower, Mencius. In the writings of Mencins it is taught that men should apply the square and compasses morally to their lives, and the level and the marking line besides, if they would walk in the straight and even paths of wisdom, and keep themselves within the bounds of honor and virtue. (Freemasonry in China, Giles. Also Gould, His Masonry, vol. i, chap. i.) In the sixth book of his philosophy we find these words:
A Master Mason, in teaching apprentices, makes use of the compasses and the square. Ye who are engaged in the pursuit of wisdom must also make use of the compass and square. (Chinese Classics, by Legge, i, 219-45)
There are even evidences, in the earliest historic records of China, of the existence of a system of
faith expressed in allegoric form, and illustrated by the symbols of building. The secrets of this faith seen to have been orally transmitted, the leaders alone pretending to have full knowledge of them. Oddly enough, it seems to have gathered about a symbolical temple put up in the desert, that the various officers of the faith were distinguished by symbolic jewels, and that at its rites they wore leather aprons. (Essay by Chaloner Alabaster, Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, vol. ii., 121-24. It is not too much to say that the Transactions of this Lodge of Research are the richest storehouse of Masonic lore in the world.)
From such records as we have it is not possible to say whether the builders themselves used their tools as emblems, or whether it was the thinkers who first used them to teach moral truths. In any case, they were understood; and the point here is that, thus early, the tools of the builder were teachers of wise and good and beautiful truth. Indeed, we need not go outside the Bible to find both the materials and working tools of the Mason so employed: (Matt. 16:18, Eph. 2 :20-22, I Cor. 2:9-17. Woman is the house and wall of man, without whose hounding and redeeming influence he would be dissipated and lost (Song of Solomon 8:10).
For every house is builded by some man; but the builder of all things is God . . . whose house we are. (Heb. 3:4)
So also by the mystics (The Perfect Way).
Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a tried stone, a previous corner-stone, a sure foundation. (Isa 28:16)
The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner. (Psa. 118:22, Matt. 21:42) Ye also, as living stones, are built up into a spiritual house. (I Pet. 2:5)
When he established the heavens I was there, when he set the compass upon the face of the deep, when he marked out the foundations of the earth: then was I by him as a master workman. (Prov. 8:27-30, Revised Version)
The Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumbline, with the a plumbline in his hand. And the Lord said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumbline. Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more. (Amos 7:7, 8)
Ye shall offer the holy oblation foursquare, with the possession of the city.(Ezk. 48:20)
And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth. (Rev. 21:16)
Him that overcometh I will make a pillar in the temple of my God; and I will write upon him my new name. (Rev. 3:12)
For we know that when our earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (II Cor. 5:1)
If further proof were needed, it has been preserved for us in the imperishable stones of Egypt. (Egyptian Obelisks, H. H. Gorringe. The obelisk In Central Park, the expenses for removing which were paid by W. H. Van-derbilt, was examined by the Grand Lodge of New York, and its emblems pronounced to be unmistakably Masonic. This book gives full account of all obelisks brought to Europe from Egypt, their measurements, inscriptions, and transportation.)
The famous obelisk, known as Cleopatra’s Needle, now in Central Park, New York, the gift to our nation from Ismail, Khedive of Egypt in 1878, is a mute but eloquent witness of the antiquity of the simple symbols of the Mason. Originally it stood as one of the forest of obelisks surrounding the great temple of the Sun-god at Heliopolis, so long a seat of Egyptian learning and religion, dating back, it is thought, to the fifteenth century before Christ. It was removed to Alexandria and re-erected by a Roman architect and engineer named Pontius, B. C. 22. When it was taken down in 1879 to be brought to America, all the emblems of the builders were found in the foundation. The rough Cube and the polished Cube in pure white limestone, the Square cut in syenite, an iron Trowel, a lead Plummet, the arc of a Circle, the serpent-symbols of Wisdom, a stone Trestle-board, a stone bearing the Master’s Mark, and a hieroglyphic word meaning
Temple B all so placed and preserved as to show, beyond doubt, that they had high symbolic meaning.
Whether they were in the original foundation, or were placed there when the obelisk was removed, no one can tell. Nevertheless, they were there, concrete witnesses of the fact that the builders worked in the light of a mystical faith, of which they were emblems.
Much has been written of buildings, their origin, age, and architecture, but of the builders hardly a word – so quickly is the worker forgotten, save as he lives in his work. Though we have no records other than these emblems, it is an obvious inference that there were orders of builders even in those early ages, to whom these symbols were sacred; and this inference is the more plausible when we remember the importance of the builder both to religion and the state. What though the builders have fallen into dust, to which all things mortal decline, they still hold out their symbols for us to read, speaking their thoughts in a language easy to understand. Across the piled- up debris of ages they whisper the old familiar truths, and it will be a part of this study to trace those symbols through the centuries, showing that they have always had the same high meanings. They bear witness not only to the unity of the human mind, but to the existence of a common system of truth veiled in allegory and taught in symbols. As such, they are prophecies of Masonry as we know it, whose genius it is to take what is old, simple, and universal, and use it to bring men together and make them friends.
Shore calls to shore That the line is unbroken!
CHAPTER III – The Drama of Faith
And so the Quest goes on. And the Quest, as it may be, ends in attainment – we know not where and when: so long as we can conceive of our separate existence, the quest goes on – an attainment continued henceforward. And ever shall the study of the ways which have been followed by those who have passed in front be a help on our own path.
It is well, it is of all things beautiful and perfect, holy and high of all, to be conscious of the path which does in fine lead thither where we seek to go, namely, the goal which is in God. Taking nothing with us which does not belong to ourselves, leaving nothing behind us that is of our real selves, we shall find in the great attainment that the companions of our toil are with us. And the place is the Valley of Peace. – ARTHUR EDWARD WAITE The Secret Tradition
Man does not live by bread alone; he lives by Faith, Hope, and Love, and the first of these was Faith. Nothing in the human story is more striking than the persistent, passionate, profound protest of man against death. Even in the earliest time we see him daring to stand erect at the gates of the grave, disputing its verdict, refusing to let it have the last word, and making argument in behalf of his soul. For Emerson, as for Addison, that fact alone was proof enough of immortality, as revealing a universal intuition of eternal life. Others may not be so easily convinced, but no man who has the heart of a man can fail to be impressed by the ancient, heroic faith of his race.
Nowhere has this faith ever been more vivid or victorious than among the old Egyptians. (Of course, faith in immortality was in nowise peculiar to Egypt, but was universal; as vivid in The Upanishads of India as in the Pyramid records. It rests upon the consensus of the insight, experience, and aspiration of the race. But the records of Egypt, like its monuments, are richer than those of other nations, if not older. Moveover, the drama of faith with which we have to do here had its origin in Egypt, whence it spread to Tyre, Athens, and Rome – and, as we shall see, even to England. For brief exposition of Egyptian faith see Egyptian Conceptions of Immortality, by G. A. Reisner, and Religion and Thought in Egypt, by J. H. Breasted.) In the ancient Book of the Dead – which is, indeed, a Book of Resurrection – occur the words: “The soul to heaven; the body to earth;” and that first faith is our faith today. Of King Unas, who lived in the third millennium, it is written: “Behold, thou last not gone as one dead, but as one living. Nor has any one in our day set forth this faith with more simple eloquence than the Hymn to Osiris, in the Papyrus of Hunefer. So in the Pyramid Texts the dead are spoken of as Those Who Ascend, the Imperishable Ones who shine as stars, and the gods are invoked to witness the death of the King ADawning as a Soul.” There is deep prophecy, albeit touched with. poignant pathos, in these broken exclamations written on the pyramid walls:
Thou diest not! Have ye said that he would die? He diest not; this King Pepi lives forever! Live! Thou shalt not die! He has escaped his day of death! Thou livest, thou livest, raise thee up! Thou diest not, stand up, raise thee up! Thou perishest not eternally! Thou diest not! (Pyramid Texts, 775, 1262, 1453, 1477.)
Nevertheless, nor poetry nor chant nor solemn ritual could make death other than death; and the Pyramid Texts, while refusing to utter the fatal word, give wistful reminiscences of that blessed age Abefore death came forth.” However high the faith of man, the masterful negation and collapse of the body was a fact, and it was to keep that daring faith alive and aglow that The Mysteries were instituted. Beginning, it may be, in incantation, they rose to heights of influence and beauty, giving dramatic portrayal of the unconquerable faith of man. Watching the sun rise from the tomb of night, and the spring return in glory after the death of winter, man reasoned from analogy – justifying a faith that held him as truly as he held it – that the race, sinking into the grave, would rise triumphant over death.
There were many variations on this theme as the drama of faith evolved, and as it passed from land to land; but the Motif was ever the same, and they all were derived, directly or indirectly, from the old Osirian passion-play in Egypt. Against the background of the ancient Solar religion, Osiris made his advent as Lord of the Nile and fecund Spirit of vegetable life – 60:1 of Nut the sky-goddess and Geb the earth- god; and nothing in the story of the Nile-dwellers is more appealing than his conquest of the hearts of the people against all odds. (For a full account of the evolution of the Osirian theology from the time it emerged from the mists of myth until its conquest, see Religion and Thought in Egypt, by Breasted, the latest, if not the most brilliant, book written in the light of the completest translation of the Pyramid Texts (especially lecture v).
How-beit, that history need not detain us here, except to say that by the time his passion had become the drama of national faith, it had been bathed in all the tender hues of human life; though somewhat of its solar radiance still lingered in it. Enough to say that of all the gods, called into being by the hopes and fears of men who dwelt in times of yore on the batiks of the Nile, Osiris was the most beloved. Osiris the benign father, Isis his sorrowful and faithful wife, and Horns whose filial piety and heroism shine like diamonds in a heap of stones – about this trinity were woven the ideals of Egyptian faith and family life. Hear now the story of the oldest drama of the race, which for more than three thousand years held captive the hearts of men. (Much has been written about the Egyptian Mysteries from the days of Plutarch’s De Iside et Osiride and the Metamorphoses of Apuleius to the huge volumes of Baron Saint Croix For popular reading the King: and God of Egypt, by Moret (Chaps. iii-iv), and the delightfully vivid Hermes and Plato, by Schure, could hardly be surpassed. But Plutarch and Apuleius, both initiates, are our best authorities, even if their oath of silence prevents them from telling us what we most want to know.)
Osiris was Ruler of Eternity, but by reason of his visible shape seemed nearly akin to man – revealing a divine humanity. His success was chiefly due, however, to the gracious speech of Isis, his sister-wife, whose charm men could neither reckon nor resist. Together they labored for the good of man, teaching him to discern the plants fit for food, themselves pressing the grapes and drinking the first cup of wine. They made known the veins of mental running through the earth, of which man was ignorant, and taught him to make weapons. They initiated man into the intellectual and moral life, taught him ethics and religion, how to read the starry sky, song and dance and the rhythm of music. Above all, they evoked in men a sense of immortality, of a destiny beyond the tomb. Nevertheless, the had enemies at once stupid and cunning, keen witted but short-sighted – the dark force of evil which still weaves the fringe of crime on the borders of human life.
Side by side with Osiris, lived the impious Set Typhon, as Evil ever haunts the Good. While Osiris was absent, Typhon – whose name means serpent – filled with envy and malice, sought to usurp his throne; but his plot was frustrated by Isis. Whereupon he resolved to kill Osiris. This he did, having invited him to a feast, by persuading him to enter a chest, offering, as if in jest, to present the richly carved chest to any one of his guests who, lying down inside it, found he was of the same size When Osiris got in and stretched himself out, the conspirators closed the chest, and flung it into the Nile. (Among the Hiudoos, whose Chrisna is the same as the Osiris of Egypt, the gods of summer were beneficent making the day fruitful. But “the three wretches” who presided over winter, were cut off from the zodiac; and as they were “found miming, they were accused of the death of Chrisna.)
Thus far, the gods had not known death. They had grown old, with white hair and trembling limbs, but old age had not led to death. As soon as Isis heard of this infernal treachery, she cut her hair, clad herself in a garb of mourning, ran thither and yon, a prey to the most cruel anguish, seeking the body. Weeping and distracted, she never tarried, never tired in her sorrowful quest.
Meanwhile, the waters carried the chest out to sea, as far as Byblos in Syria, the town of Adonis, where it lodged against a shrub of arica, or tama risk – like an acacia tree. (A literary parallel in the story of Aeneas, by Vergil, is most suggestive. Priam, king of Troy, in the beginning of the Trojan war committed his son Polydorus to the care of Polymester, king of Thrace, and sent him a great sum of money. After Troy was taken the Thracian, for the sake of the money, killed the young prince and privately buried him. AEneas, coming into that country, and accidentally plucking up a shrub that was near him on the side of the hill, discovered the murdered body of Polydorus. Other legends of such accidental discoveries of unknown graves haunted the olden time, and may have been suggested by the story of Isia.) Owing to the virtue of the body, the shrub, at its touch, shot up into a tree, growing around it, and protecting it, until the king of that country cut the tree which hid the chest in its bosom, and made from it a column for his palace. At last Isis, led by a vision, came to Byblos, made herself known, and asked for the column. Hence the picture of her weeping over a broken column torn from the palace, while Horus, god of Time, stands behind her pouring ambrosia on her hair. She took the body back to Egypt, to the city of Bouto; but Typhon, hunting by moonlight, found the chest, and having recognized the body of Osiris, mangled it and scattered it beyond recognition. Isis, embodiment of the old world-sorrow for the dead, continued het pathetic quest, gathering piece by piece the body of her dismembered husband, and giving him decent interment. Such was the life and death of Osiris, but as his career pictured the cycle of nature, it could not of course end here.
Horus fought with Typhon, losing an eye in the battle, but finally overthrew him and took him prisoner. There are several versions of his fate, but he seems to have been tried, sentenced, and executed B “cut in three pieces,” as the Pyramid Texts relate. Thereupon the faithful son went in solemn procession to the grave of his father, opened it, and, called upon Osiris to rise: “Stand up Thou shalt not end, thou shalt not perish!” But death was deaf Here the Pyramid Texts recite the mortuary ritual, with its hymns and chants; but in vain. At length Osiris awakes, weary and feeble, and by the aid of the strong grip of the lion-god he gains control of his body, and is lifted from death to life. (Gods of the Egyptians, by E. A. W Budge; La Place des Victores. by Austin Fryar, especially the colored plates.) Thereafter, by virtue of his victory over death, Osiris becomes Lord of the Land of Death, his scepter an Ank Cross, his throne a Square.
Such, in brief, was the ancient allegory of eternal life, upon which there were many elaborations as the drama unfolded; but always, under whatever variation of local color, of national accent or emphasis, its central theme remained the same. Often perverted and abused, it was everywhere a dramatic expression of the great human aspiration for triumph over death and union with God, and the belief in the ultimate victory of Good over Evil. Not otherwise would this drama have held the hearts of men through long ages, and won the eulogiums of the most enlightened men of antiquity – of Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Euripides, Plutarch, Pindar, Isocrates, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. Writing to his wife after the loss of their little girl, Plutarch commends to her the hope set forth in the mystic rites and symbols of this drama, as, else where, he testifies that it kept him “as far from superstition as from atheism,” and helped him to approach the truth. For deeper minds this drama had a double meaning, teaching not only immortality after death, but the awakening of man upon earth from animalism to a life of purity, justice, and honor. How nobly this practical aspect was taught, and with what fineness of spiritual insight, may be seen in Secret Sermon on the Mountain in the Hermetic lore of Greece. (Quest New and Old, by G. R. S. Mead.)
What may I say, my son? I can but tell thee this. Whenever I see within myself the Simple Vision brought to birth out of God’s mercy, I have passed through my self into a Body that can never die. Then I am not what I was before. . . They who are thus born are children of a Divine race. This race, my son, is never taught; but when He willeth it, its memory is restored by God. It is the Way of Birth in God.”. . Withdraw into thyself and it will come. Will, and it comes to pass.
Isis herself is said to have established the first temple of the Mysteries, the oldest being those practiced at Memphis. Of these there were two orders, the Lesser to which the many were eligible, and which consisted of dialogue and ritual, with certain signs, tokens, grips, passwords; and the Greater, reserved for the few who approved themselves worthy of being entrusted with the highest secrets of science, philosophy, and religion. For these the candidate had to undergo trial, purification, danger, austere asceticism, and, at last, regeneration through dramatic death amid rejoicing. Such as endured the ordeal with valor were then taught, orally and by symbol, the highest wisdom to which man had attained, including geometry, astronomy, the line arts, the laws of nature, as well as the truths of faith. Awful oaths of secrecy were exacted, and Plutarch describes a man kneeling, his hands bound, a cord round his body, and a knife at his throat – death being the penalty of violating the obligation. Even then, Pythagoras had to wait almost twenty years to learn the hidden wisdom of Egypt, so cautious were they of candidates, especially of foreigners. But he made noble use of it when, later, he founded a secret order of his own at Crotona, in Greece, in which, among other things, he taught geometry, using numbers as symbols of spiritual truth. (Pythagras, by Edouard Schure – a fascinating story of that great thinker and teacher. The use of numbers by Pythagoras must not, however, be confounded with the mystical, or rather fantastic, mathematics of the Kabbalists of a later time.)
From Egypt the Mysteries passed with little change to Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome, the name of local gods being substituted for those of Osiris and Isis. The Grecian or Eleusinian Mysteries, established 1800 B. C., represented Demeter and Persephone, and depicted the death of Diony
sius with stately ritual which led the neophyte from death into life and immortality. They taught the unity of God, the immutable necessity of morality, and a life after death, investing initiates with signs and passwords by which they could know each other in the dark as well as in the light. The Mithraic or Persian Mysteries celebrated the eclipse of the Sun-god, using the signs of the zodiac, the processions of the seasons, the death of nature, and the birth of spring. The Adoniac or Syrian cults were similar, Adonis being killed, but revived to point to life through death. In the Cabirie Mysteries on the island of Samothrace, Atys the Sun was killed by his brothers the Seasons, and at the vernal equinox was restored to life. Sq, also, the Druids, as far north as England, taught of one God the tragedy of winter and summer, and conducted the initiate through the valley of death to life everlasting. (For a vivid account of the spread of the Mysteries of Isis and Mithra over the Roman Empire, see Roman Life, from Nero to Aurelius by Dill (bk. iv, chaps. v-vi). Frans Cumont is the great authority on Mithra, and his Mysteries of Mithra and Oriental Religions trace the origin and influence of that cult with accuracy, in sight, and charm. W. W. Reade, brother of Charles Reade the novelist, left a study of The Veil of Isis, or Mysteries of the Druids, finding in the vestiges of Druidism Athe Emblems of Masonry.)
Shortly before the Christian era, when faith was failing and the world seemed reeling to its ruin; there was a great revival of the Mystery-religions. Imperial edict was powerless to stay it, much less stop it. From Egypt, from the far East, they came rushing in like a tide, Isis “of the myriad names” vieing with Mithra, the patron saint of the soldier, for the homage of the multitude. If we ask the secret reason for this influx of mysticism, no single answer can be given to the question. What influence the reigning mystery-cults had upon the new, uprising Christianity is also hard to know, and the issue is still in debate. That they did influence the early Church is evident from the writings of the Fathers, and some go so far as to say that the Mysteries died at last only to live again in the ritual of the Church. St. Paul in his missionary journeys came in contact with the Mysteries, and even makes use of some of their technical terms in his epistles; (Col. 2:8-19. See Mysteries Pagan and Christian, by C. Cheethan; also Monumental Christianity, by Lundy, especially chapter on “The Discipline of the Secret.” For a full discussion of the attitude of St. Paul, see St. Paul and the Mystery-Religions, by Kennedy, a work of fine scholarship. That Christianity had its esoteric is plan – as it was natural – from the writings of the Fathers, including Origen, Cyril, Basil, Gregory, Ambrose, Augustine, and others. Chrysostom often uses the word initiation in respect of Christian teaching, while Tertullian denounces the pagan mysteries as counterfeit imitations by Satan of the Christian secret rites and teachings” He also baptises those who believe in him, and promises they shall come forth, cleansed of their sins.” Other Christian writers were more tolerant, finding in Christ the answer to the aspiration uttered in the Mysteries; and therein, it may be, they were right.) but he condemned them on the ground that what they sought to teach in drama can be known only by ritual experience a sound insight, though surely drama may assist to that experience, else public worship might also come under ban.
Toward the end of their power, the Mysteries fell into the mire and became corrupt, as all things human are apt to do: even the Church itself being no exception. But that at their highest and best they were not only lofty and noble, but elevating and refining, there can be no doubt, and that they served a high purpose is equally clear. No one, who has read in the Metamorphoses of Apuleins the initiation of Lucius into the Mysteries of Isis, can doubt that the effect on the votary was profound and purifying. He tells us that the ceremony of initiation “is, as it were, to suffer death, and that he stood in the presence of the gods, “ay, stood near and worshiped” Far hence ye profane, and all who are polluted by sin, was the motto of the Mysteries,. and Cicero testifies that what a man learned in the house. of the hidden place made him want to live nobly, and gave him happy hopes for the hour of death.
Indeed, the Mysteries as Plato said, (Phaedo) were established by men of great genius who, in the early ages, strove to teach purity, to ameliorate the cruelty of the race, to refine its. manners and morals, and to restrain society by stranger bonds than those which human laws impose. No mystery any longer attaches to what they taught, but only as to the particular rites, dramas, and symbols used in their teaching. They taught faith in the unity and spirituality of God, the sovereign authority of the moral law, heroic purity of soul, austere discipline of character, and the hope of a life beyond the tomb. Thus in ages of darkness, of complexity, of conflicting peoples, tongues, and faiths, these great orders toiled in behalf of friendship, bringing men together under a banner of faith, and training them for a nobler moral life. Tender and tolerant of all faiths, they formed an all-embracing moral and spiritual fellowship which rose above barriers of nation, race, and creed, satisfying the craving of men for unity, while evoking in them a sense of that eternal mysticism out of which all religions were born. Their ceremonies, so far as we know them, were stately dramas of the moral life and the fate of the soul. Mystery and secrecy added impressiveness, and fable and enigma disguised in imposing spectacle the laws of justice, piety, and the hope of immortality.
Masonry stands in this tradition; and if we may not say that it is historically related to the great ancient orders, it is their spiritual descendant, and renders much the same ministry to our age which the Mysteries rendered to the olden world. It is, indeed, the same stream of sweetness and light flowing in our day – like the fabled river Alpheus which, gathering the waters of a hundred rills along the hillsides of Arcadia, sank, lost to sight, in a chasm in the earth, only to reappear in the fountain of Arethusa. This at least is true: the Greater Ancient Mysteries were prophetic of Masonry whose drama is an epitome of universal initiation, and whose simple symbols are the depositaries of the noblest wisdom of mankind. As such, it brings men together at the altar of prayer, keeps alive the truths that make us men, seeking, by every resource of art, to make tangible the power of love, the worth of beauty, and the reality of the ideal.
CHAPTER IV – The Secret Doctrine
The value of man does not consist in the truth which he possesses, or means to possess, but in the sincere pain which he hath taken to find it out. For his powers do not augment by possess ing truth but by investigating it, wherein consists his only perfectibility. Possession lulls the en ergy of man, and makes him idle and proud. If God held inclosed in his right hand absolute truth, and in his left only the inward lively impulse toward truth, and if He said to me: Choose! even at the risk of exposing mankind to continual erring, I most humbly would seize His left hand, and say: Father, give! absolute truth belongs to Thee alone. – G. E. LESSING, Fragments
God ever shields us from premature ideas, said the gracious and wise Emerson; and so does nature. She holds back her secrets until man is fit to be entrusted with them, lest by rashness he destroy himself. Those who seek find, not because the truth is far off, but because the discipline of the quest makes them ready for the truth, and worthy to receive it By a certain sure instinct the great teachers of our race have regarded the highest truth less as a gift bestowed than as a trophy to be won. Everything must not be told to everybody. Truth is power, and when held by untrue hands it may become a plague. Even Jesus had His “little flock” to whom. He confided much which He kept from the world, or else taught it in parables cryptic and veiled. (Matt. 13:10,11) (Unwritten Sayings of Our Lord, David Smith, vii) One of His sayings in explanation of His method is quoted by Clement of Alexandria in his Homilies: It was not from grudgingness that our Lord gave the charge in a certain Gospel: “My mystery is for Me and the sons of My house.” (Matt. 13:10,11) (Unwritten Sayings of Our Lord, David Smith, vii)
This more withdrawn teaching, hinted in the saying of the Master, with the arts of spiritual culture employed, has come to be known as the Secret Doctrine, or the Hidden Wisdom. A persistent tradition affirms that throughout the ages, and in every land, behind the system of faith accepted by the masses an inner and deeper doctrine has been held and taught by those able to grasp it. This hidden faith has undergone many changes of outward expression, using now one set of symbols and now another, but its central tenets have remained the same; and necessarily so, since the ultimates of thought are ever immutable. By the same token, those who have eyes to see have no difficulty in penetrating the varying veils of expression and identifying the underlying truths; thus confirming in the arcana of faith what we found to be true in its earliest forms – the oneness of the human mind and the unity of truth.
There are those who resent the suggestion that there is, or can be, secrecy in regard to spiritual truths which, if momentous at all, are of common moment to all. For this reason Demonax, in the Lucian play, would not be initiated, because, if the Mysteries were bad, he would not keep silent as a warning; and if they were good, he would proclaim them as a duty. The objection is, however, unsound, as a little thought will reveal Secrecy in such matters inheres in the nature of the truths themselves, not in any affected superiority of a few elect minds. Qualification for the knowledge of higher things is, and must always be, a matter of personal fitness. Other qualification there is none. For those who have that fitness the Secret Doctrine is as clear as sunlight, and for those who have it not the truth would still be secret though shouted from the house-top. The Grecian Mysteries were certainly secret, yet the fact of their existence was a matter of common knowledge, and there was no more secrecy about their sanctuaries than there is about a cathedraL Their presence testified to the public that a deeper than the popular faith did exist, but the right to admission into them depended upon the whole-hearted wish of the aspirant, and his willingness to fit himself to know the truth. The old maxim applies here, that when the pupil is ready the teacher is found waiting, and he passes on to know a truth hitherto hidden because he lacked either the aptitude or the desire.
All is mystery as of course, but mystification is another thing, and the tendency to befog a theme which needs to be clarified, is to be regretted. Here lies, perhaps, the real reason for the feeling of resentment against the idea of a Secret Doctrine, and one must admit that it is not without justification. For example, we are told that behind the age-long struggle of man to know the truth there exists a hidden fraternity of initiates, adepts in esoteric lore, known to themselves but not to the world, who have had in their keeping, through the centuries, the high truths which they permit to be dimly adumbrated in the popular faiths, but which the rest of the race are too obtuse, even yet, to grasp save in an imperfect and limited degree. These hidden sages, it would seem, look upon our eager aspiring humanity much like the patient masters, of an idiot school, watching it go on forever seeking without finding, while they sit in seclusion keeping the key’s of the occult. ( By occultism is meant the belief in, and the claim to be able to use, a certain range of forces neither natural, nor, technically, supernatural, but more properly to be called preternatural – often, through by no mean. always, for evil or selfish ends, Some extend the term occultism to cover mysticism and the spiritual life generally, but that is not a legitimate use of either word. Occultism seeks to get; mysticism to give. The one is audacious and seclusive, the other bumble and open; and if we are not to end in blunderland we must not confound the two (Mysticism, by E. Underhill, part i, chap. vii).) All of which would be very wonderful, if true. It is, however, only one more of those fascinating fictions with which mystery- mongers entertain themselves, and deceive others. Small wonder that thinking men turn from such fanciful folly with mingled feelings of pity and disgust. Sages there have been in every land and time, and their lofty wisdom has the unity which inheres in all high human thought, but that there is now, or has ever been, a conscious, much less a continuous, fellowship of superior souls holding as secrets truths denied to their fellow-men, verges upon the absurd.
Indeed, what is called the Secret Doctrine differs not one whit from what has been taught openly and earnestly, so far as such truth can be taught in words or pictured in symbols, by the highest minds of almost every land and language. The difference lies less in what is taught than in the way in which it is taught; not so much in matter as in method. Also, we must, not forget that, with few exceptions, the men who have led our race farthest along the way toward the Mount of Vision, have not, been men who learned their lore from ,any coterie of exoteric experts, but, rather, meri who told in song what they had been taught in sorrow – initiates into eternal truth, to be sure, but by the grace of God and the divine right of genius! ( Much time would have been saved, and not a little confusion avoided had this obvious fact been kept in mind. Even so charming a book as feese, the Last Great Initiate, by Schure – not to speak of The Great Work and Mystic Masonry – is dearly, though not intentionally, misleading. Of a piece with this is the effort, apparently deliberate and concerted, to rob the Hebrew race of all spiritual originality, as witness so able a work as Our Own Religon is Persia, by Mills, to name no other. Our own religion? Assuredly, if by that is meant the one great, universal religion of humanity. But the sundering difference between the Bible and any other book that speaks to mankind about God and Life and Death, sets the Hebrew race apart as supreme in its religious genius, as the Greeks were in philosophical acumen and artistic power, and the Romans in executive skill. Leaving all theories of inspiration out of account, facts are facts, and the Bible has no peer in the literature of mankind.) Seers, sages, mystics, saints – these are they who, having sought in sincerity, found in reality, and the memory of them is a kind of religion. Some of them, like Pythagoras, were trained for their quest in the schools of the Secret Doctrine, but others went their way alone, though never unattended, and, led by “the vision splendid,” they came at last to the gate and passed into the City.
Why, then, Itmay be asked, speak of such a thing as the Secret Doctrine at all, since it were better named the Open Secret of the world? For two reasons, both of which have been intimated: first, in the olden times unwonted knowledge of any kind was a very dangerous possession, and the truths of science and philosophy, equally with religious ideas other than those in vogue among the multitude, had to seek the protection of obscurity. If this necessity gave designing priestcraft its opportunity, it nevertheless offered the security and silence needed by the thinker and seeker after truth in dark times. Hence there arose in the ancient world, wherever the human mind was alive and spiritual, systems of exoteric and esoteric instruction; that is, of truth taught openly and truth concealed. Disciples were advanced from the outside to the inside of this divine philosophy, as we have seen, by degrees of initiation. Whereas, by symbols, dark sayings, and dramatic ritual the novice received only hints of what was later made plain.
Second, this hidden teaching may indeed be described as the open secret of the world, because it is open, yet understood only by those fit to receive it. What kept it hidden was no arbitrary restriction, but only a lack of insight and fineness of mind to appreciate and assimilate it Nor could it be otherwise; and this is as true today as ever it was in the days of the Mysteries, and so it will be until whatever is to be the end of mortal things. Fitness for the finer truths cannot be conferred; it must be developed. Without it the teachings of the sages are enigmas that seem unintelligible, if not contradictory. In so far, then, as the discipline of initiation, and its use of art in drama and symbol, help toward purity of soul and spiritual awakening, by so much do they prepare men for the truth; by so much and no further. So that, the Secret Doctrine, whether as taught by the ancient Mysteries or by modern Masonry, is less a doctrine than a discipline; a method of organized spiritual culture and as such has a place and a ministry among men.
Perhaps the greatest student in this field of esoteric teaching and method, certainly the greatest now living. is Arthur Edward Waite, to whom it is a plesure to pay tribute. By nature a symbolist, it not a sacramentalist, be found in such studies a task for which he was
almost ideally fitted by temperament, training, and genius. Engaged in business, but not absorbed by it, years of quiet, leisurely toil have made him master of the vast literature and lore of his subject, to the study of which he brought a religious nature, the accuracy and skill of a scholar, a sureness and delicacy of insight at once sympathetic and critical, the soul of a poet, and a patience as untiring as it is rewarding; qualities rare indeed, and still more rarely blended. Prolific but seldom prolix, he writes with grace, ease, and lucidity, albeit in a style often opulent, and touched at times with lights and jewels from old alchemists antique liturgies, remote and haunting romance secret orders of initiation, and other recondite sources not easily traced. Much learning and many kinds of wisdom are in his pages, and withal an air of serenity, of tolerance; and if he is of those who turn down another street when miracles are preformed in the neighborhood, it is because, having found the inner truth, he asks for no sign.
Always he writes in the conviction that all great subjects bring us back to the one subject which is alone great, and that scholarly criticisms, folk-lore, and deep philosophy are little less than useless if they fall short of directing us to our true end B the attainment of that living Truth which is about us everywhere. He conceives of our mortal life as one eternal Quest of that living Truth, taking many phases and forms, yet ever at heart the same aspiration, to trace which he has made it his labor and joy to essay. Through all his pages he is following out the tradition of this Quest, in its myriad aspects, especially since the Christian era, disfigured though it has been at times by superstition, and distorted at others by bigotry, but still, in what guise soever, containing as its secret the meaning of the life of man from his birth to his reunion with God who is his Goal. And the result is a series of volumes noble in form, united in aim, unique in wealth of revealing beauty, and of unequalled worth. ( Some there are who think that much of the best work of Mr. Waite is in his Poetry, of which there are two volumes, A Book of Mystery and Vision, and Strange Houses of Sleep. There one meets a fine spirit, alive to the glory of the world and all that charms the soul and sense of man, yet seeing past these; rich and significant thought so closely wedded to emotion that each seems either. Other hooks not to be omitted are his slender volume of aphorisms, Steps to the Crown, his Life of Saint-Martin and his Studies in Mysticism; for what he touches he adorns.)
Beginning as far back as 1886, Waite issued his study of the Mysteriu of Magic, a digest of the writings of Eliphas Levi, to whom Albert Pike was more indebted than he let us know. Then followed the Real History of the Rosicrtccianc, which traces, as far as any mortal may trace, the thread of fact whereon is strung the romance of a fraternity the very existence of which has been doubted and denied by turns. Like all his work, it bears the impress of knowledge from the actual sources, betraying his extraordinary learning and his exceptional experience in this kind of inquiry. Of the Quest in its distinctively Christian aspect, he has written in The Hidden Church of the Holy Graal; a work of rare beauty, of bewildering richness, written in a style which, partaking of the quality of the story told, is not at all after the rnanner of these days. But the Graal Legend is only one aspect of the old-world sacred Quest, uniting the symbols of chivalry with Christian faith. Masonry is another; and no one may ever hope to write of The Secret Tradition in Masonry with more insight and charm, or a touch more
sure and revealing, than this gracious student for whom Masonry perpetuates the instituted Mysteries of antiquity, with much else derived from innumerable store- houses of treasure. His last work is a survey of The Secret Doctrine in Israel, being a study of the Zohar, ( Even the Jewish Encyclopedia, and such scholars as Zunz, Graetz, Luzzatto, Jost, and Munk avoid this jungle, as well they might, remembering the legend of the four sages in “the enclosed garden: one of whom looked around and died; another lost his reason; a third tried to destroy the garden; and only one came out with his wits. See The Cabala, by Pick, and The Kabbalah Unveiled, by MacGregor.) or Hebrew ABook of Splendor,” a feat for which. no Hebrew scholar has had the heart. This Bible of Kabbalism is indeed so confused and confusing that only a golden dustman” would have had the patience to sift out Its gems from the mountain of dross, and attempt to reduce its wide-weltering chaos to order. Even Waite, with all his gift of research and narration, finds little more than gleams of dawn in a dim forest, brilliant vapors, and glints that tell by their very perversity and strangeness.
Whether this age-old legend of the Quest be woven about the Cup of Christ, a Lost Word, or a design left unfinished by the death of a Master Builder, it has always these things in common: first, the memorials of a great loss which has befallen humanity by sin, making our race a pilgrim host ever in second, the intimation that what was lost still exists somewhere in time and the world, although deeply buried; third, the faith that it will ultimately be found and the vanished glory restored; fourth, the substitution of something temporary and less than the best, albeit never in a way to adjourn the quest; fifth, and more rarely, the felt presence of that which was lost under veils close to the hands of all. What though it take many forms, from the pathetic pilgrimage of the Wandering few to the journey to fairyland in quest of The Blue Bird, it is ever and always the same. These are but so many symbols of the fact that men are made of one blood and born to one need; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He is not far from every one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:2-28.)
What, then, is the Secret Doctrine, of which this seer-like scholar has written with so many improvisations of eloquence and emphasis, and of which each of us is in quest? What, indeed, but that which all the world is seeking – knowledge of Him whom to know aright is the fulfillment of every human need the kinship of the soul with God; the life of purity, honor, and piety demanded by that high heredity; the unity and fellowship of the race in duty and destiny; and the faith that the soul is deathless as God its Father is deathless! Now to accept this faith as a mere philosophy is one thing, but to realize it as an experience of the innermost heart is another and a deeper thing. No man knows the Secret Doctrine until it has become the secret of his soul, the reigning reality of his thought, the inspiration of his acts, the form and color and glory of his life. Happily, owing to the growth bf the race in spiritual intelligence and power, the highest truth is no longer held as a sacred secret. Still, if art has efficacy to surprise and reveal the elusive Spirit of Truth, when truth is dramatically presented it is made vivid and impressive, strengthening the faith of the strongest and bringing a ray of heavenly light to many a baffled seeker.
Ever the Quest goes on, though it is permitted us to believe that the Lost Word has been in the only way in which it can ever be even in the life of Him who was “the made flesh,” who dwelt among us and whose and beauty we know. Of this Quest Masonry aspect, continuing the high tradition of humanity asking men to unite in the search for the thing most worth finding, that each may share the faith of all. Apart from its rites, there is no mystery in Masonry, save the mystery of all great and simple things. So far from being hidden of occult, its glory lies in its openness, and its emphasis upon the realities which are to the human world what light and air are to nature. Its mystery is of so great a kind that it is easily overlooied; its secret almost too simple to be found out. ( All secret Orders, it may be added, are a reminiscence, if not a survival, of the Men’s House of primitive society, a tribal Lodge in which every young man, when he came to maturity, was initiated into the secret law, legend, tradition, and religion of his people. Recent research has brought this long hidden institution to light, showing that it was really the center of early tribal life, the council-chamber, the guest-house, the place where laws were made and courts held, and where the trophies of war were treasured. Indeed, primitive society was really a secret society so far as the men were concerned, and unless we keep this fact in mind we can hardly understand it at all. Every man was an initiate. Methods of initiation differed in different times and places, but this had, nevertheless, a certain likeness, as they had always the same purpose. Ordeals, often severe and frightful, were required – exposing the candidate not only to physical torture, but to the peril of unseen spirits – as tests to prove youth worthy, by reason of virtue and valor, to be entrusted with the secret lore of his tribe. The ceremonies included vows of chastity, of loyalty and secrecy, and, almost universally, a mimic representation of the death and resurrection of the novice. After his Ainitiation into manhood for such it really was, he was given a new name, and a new language of signs, grips, and tokens. No doubt it was antiquity of the idea and necessity of initiation that our Masonic fathers had in mind when they said that Masonry began with the beginning of history – and, so interpreted, they were right. At any rate the Men’s House, with its initiatory rites and secret teaching, was one of the great institutions of humanity which Masonry perpetuates today. (For a scientific account of the Men’s House, see Primitive Secret Societies, by Prof. Hutton Webster).)
CHAPTER V – The Collegia
This society was called the Dionysian Artificers, as Bacchus was supposed to be the inventor of building theaters; and they performed the Dionysian festivities. From this period, the Science of Astronomy which had given rise to the Dionysian rites, became connected with types taken from the art of building. The Ionian societies . . extended their moral views, in conjunction with the art of building, to many useful purposes, and to the practice of acts of benevolence. They had significant words to distinguish their members; and for the same purpose they used emblems taken from the art of building. – Joseph Da Costa, Dionysian Artificers
We need not then consider it improbable, if in the dark centuries when the Roman empire was dying out, and its glorious temples falling into ruin; when the arts and sciences were falling into disuse or being enslaved; and when no place was safe from persecution and warfare, the guild of the Architects should fly for safety to almost the only free spot in Italy; and here, though they could no longer practice their craft, they preserved the legendary knowledge and precepts which, as history implies, came down to them through Vitruvius from older sources, some say from Solomon’s builders themselves. – Leader Scott, The Cathedral Builders
So far in our study we have found that from earliest time architecture was related to religion; that the working tools of the builder were emblems of moral truth; that there were great secret orders using the Drama of Faith as a rite of initiation; and that a hidden doctrine was kept for those accounted worthy, after trial, to be entrusted with it. Secret societies, born of the nature an4 need of man, there have been almost since recorded history began; ( Primitive Secret Societies, by H. Webster: Secret Societies of all Ages and Countries, by W. C. Heckethorn.) but as yet we have come upon no separate and distinct order of builders. For aught we know there may have been such in plenty, but we have no intimation, much less a record, of the fact. That is to say, history has a vague story to tell us of the earliest orders of the builders.
However, it is more than a mere plausible inference that from the beginning architects were members of secret orders; for, as we have seen, not only the truths of religion and philosophy, but also the facts of science and the laws of art, were held as secrets to be known only to the few. This was so, apparently without exception, among all ancient peoples; so much so, indeed, that we may take it as certain that the builders of old time were initiates. Of necessity, then, the arts of the craft were secrets jealously guarded, and the architects themselves, while they may have employed and trained
ordinary workmen, were men of learning and influence. Such glimpses of early architects as we have confirm this inference, as, for example, the noble hymn to the Sun-god written by Suti and Hor, two architects employed by Amenhotep III, of Egypt. (We may add the case of Weshptah, one of the viziers of the Fifth Dynasty in Egypt, about 2700 B.C., and also the royal architect, for whom the great tomb was built, endowed, and furnished by the king (Religion in Egypt. by Breasted, lecture ii); also the statue of Semut, chief of Masons under Queen Hatasu, now in Berlin.) Just when the builders began to form orders of their own no one knows, but it was perhaps when the Mystery-cults began to journey abroad into other lands. What we have to keep in mind is that all the arts had their home in the temple, from which, as time passed, they spread out fan-wise along all the paths of culture.
Keeping in mind the secrecy of the laws of building, and the sanctity with which all science and art were regarded, we have a key whereby to interpret the legends woven about the building of the temple of Solomon. Few realize how high that temple on Mount Moriah towered in the history of the olden world, and how the story of its building haunted the legends and traditions of the times following. Of these legends there were many, some of them wildly improbable, but the persistence of the tradition, and its consistency withal, despite many variations, is a fact of no small moment. Nor is this tradition to be wondered at, since time has shown that the building of the temple at Jerusalem was an event of world-importance, not only to the Hebrews, but to other nations, more especially the Phoenicians. The histories of both peoples make much of the building of the Hebrew temple, of the friendship of Solomon and Hiram I, of Tyre, and of the harmony between the two peoples; and Phoenician tradition has it that Solomon presented Hiram with a duplicate of the temple, which was erected in Tyre. (Hiutonan: His. World, vol. ii, chap. iii. Josephus gives an elaborate account of the temple, including the correspondence between Solomon and Hiram of Tyre (Jewish Antiquities, bk. vii, chaps.2-6).
Clearly, the two nations were drawn closely together, and this fact carried with it a mingling of religious influences and ideas, as was true between the Hebrews and other nations, especially Egypt and Phoenicia, during the reign of Solomon. Now the religion of the Phoenicians at this time, as all agree, was the Egyptian religion in a modified form, Dionysius having taken the role of Osiris in the drama of faith in Greece, Syria, and Asia Minor. Thus we have the Mysteries of Egypt, in which Moses was learned, brought to the very door of the temple of Solomon, and that, too, at a time favorable to their impress. The Hebrews were not architects, and it is plain from the records that the temple B and, indeed, the palaces of Solomon – were designed and erected by Phoenician builders, and for the most part by Phoenician workmen and materials. Josephus adds that the architecture of the temple was of the style called Grecian. So much would seem to be fact, whatever may be said of the legends flowing from it.
If, then, the laws of building were secrets known only to initiates, there must have been a secret order of architects who built the temple of Solomon. Who were they? They were almost certainly the Dionysian Artificers B not to be confused with the play-actors called by the same name later B an order of builders who erected temples, stadia, and theaters in Asia Minor, and who were at the same time an order of the Mysteries under the tutelage of Bacchus before that worship declined, as it did later in Athens and Rome, into mere revelry. (Symbolism of Masonry, Mackey, chap. vi; also in Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Masonry, both of which were drawn from History of Masonry, by Laurie, chap. I; and Laurie in turn derived his facts from a Sketch for the History of the Dionysian Artificers, A Fragment by H. J. Da Costa (1820). Why Waite and others brush the Dionysian architects aside as a dream is past finding out in view of the evidence and authorities put forth by Da Costa, nor do they give any reason for so doing. “Lebedos was the seat and assembly of the Dionysian Artificers, who inhabit Ionia to the Hellespont; there they had annually their solemn meetings and festivities in honor of Bacchus,” wrote Strabo (lib. xiv, 921). They were a secret society having signs and words to distinguish their members (Robertson’s Greece), and used emblems taken from the art of building (Eusebius, de Prep. Evang. iii, C. 12). They entered Asis Minor and Phoenicia fifty years before the temple of Solomon was built, and Strabo traces them on into Syria, Persia, and India. Surely here are facts not to be swept aside as romance because, forsooth, they do not fit certain theories. Moreover, they explain many things, as we shall see.) As such, they united the art of architecture with the old Egyptian drama of faith, representing in their ceremonies the murder of Dionysius by the Titans and his return to life. So that, blending the symbols of Astronomy with those of Architecture, by a slight change made by a natural process, how easy br the master-artist of the temple-builders to become the hero of the ancient drama of immortality. (Rabbinic legend has it that all the workmen on the temple were killed, so that they should not build another temple devoted to idolatry (Jewish Encyclopedia, article “Freemasonry”). Other legends equally absurd cluster about the temple and its building, none of which is to be taken literally. As a fact, Hiram the architect, or rather artificer in metals, did not lose his life. but, as Josephus tells us, lived to good age and died at Tyre. What the legend is trying to tell us, however, is that at the building of the temple the Mysteries mingled with Hebrew faith, each mutually influencing the other.)
Whether or not this fact can be verified from history, such is the form in which the tradition has come down to us, surviving through long ages and triumphing over all vicissitude. (Strangely enough, there is a sect or tribe called the Druses, now inhabiting the Lebanon district, who claim to be not only the descendants of the Phoenicians, but the builders of King Solomon’s temple. So persistent and important among them is this tradition that their religion is built about it B if indeed it be not something more than a legend. They have Khalwehs, or temples, built after the fashion of lodges, with three degrees of initiation, and, though an agricultural folk, they use signs and tools of building as emblems of moral truth. They have signs, grips, and passwords for recognition In the words of their lawgiver, Hamze, their creed reads: “The belief in the Truth of One God shall take the place of Prayer; the exercise of brotherly love shall take the place of Fasting; and the daily practice of acts of Charity shall take the place of Alms-giving.” Why such a people, having such a tradition? Where did they get it? What may this fact set in the fixed and changeless East mean? (See the essay of Hackett Smith on “The Druses and Their Relation to Freemasonry,” and the discussion following, Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, iv. 7-19.) Secret orders have few records and their story is hard to tell, but this account is perfectly in accord with the spirit and setting of the situation, and there is neither fact nor reason against it. While this does not establish it as true historically, it surely gives it validity as a prophecy, if nothing more. (Rawlinson, in his History of Phoenicsa, says the people had for ages possessed the mason’s art, it having been brought in very early days from Egypt” Sir C. Warren found on the foundation stones at Jerusalem mason’s marks in Phoenician letters (A. Q. C., ii, 125; iii, 68).)
After all, then, the tradition that Masonry, not unlike the Masonry we now know, had its origin while the temple of King Solomon was building, and was given shape by the two royal friends, may not be so fantastic as certain superior folk seem to think it How else can we explain the fact that when the Knights of the Crusades went to the Holy Land they came back a secret, oath-bound fraternity? Also, why is it that, through the ages, we see bands of builders coming from the East calling themselves “sons of Solomon,” and using his interlaced triangle-seal as their emblem? Strabo, as we have seen, traced the Dionysiac builders eastward into Syria, Persia, and even India. They may also be traced westward. Traversing Asia Minor, they entered Europe by way of Constantinople, and we follow them through Greece to Rome, where already several centuries before Christ we find them bound together in corporations called Collegia. These lodges flourished in all parts of the Roman Empire, traces of their existence having been discovered in England as early as the middle of the first century of our era.
Krause use was the first to point out a prophecy of Masonry in the old orders of builders, following their footsteps B not connectedly, of course, for there are many gaps B through the Dionysiac fraternity of Tyre, through the Roman Collegia, to the architects and Masons of the Middle Ages. Since he wrote, however, much new material has come to light, but the date of the advent of the builders in Rome is still uncertain. Some trace it to the very founding of the city, while others go no further back than King Numa, the friend of Pythagoras. (See essay on “A Masonic Built City,” by S. R. Forbes, a study of the plan and building of Rome, Ar: Quatuor Corontorum, iv, 86. As there will be many references to the proceedings of the Coronatorum Lodge of Research, it will be convenient hereafter to use only its initials, A. Q. C., in behalf of brevity. For an account of the Collegia in early Christian times, see Roman Life from Nero to Aurelius, by Dill (bk. ii, chap. iii); also De Collegia, by Mommsen. There is an excellent article in Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, and Gould, His. Masonry, vol. i, chap. I.) By any account, they were of great antiquity, and their influence in Roman history was far-reaching. They followed the Roman legions to remote places, building cities, bridges, and temples, and it was but natural that Mithra, the patron god of soldiers, should have influenced their orders. Of this an example may be seen in the remains of the ancient Roman villa at Morton, on the Isle of Wight. (See Masonic Character of Roman Villa at Morton, by J. F. Crease (A. Q. C., iii, 38-59).)
As Rome grew in power and became a vast, all-embracing empire, the individual man felt, more and more, his littleness and loneliness. This feeling, together with the increasing specialization of industry, begat a passion for association, and Collegia of many sorts were organized. Even a casual glance at the inscriptions, under the heading Artes et Opificia, will show the enormous development of skilled handicrafts, and how minute was their specialization. Every trade soon had its secret order, or union, and so powerful did they become that the emperors found it necessary to abolish the right of free association. Yet even such edicts, through effective for a little time, were helpless as against the universal craving for combination. Ways were easily found whereby to evade the law, which had exempted from its restrictions orders consecrated by their antiquity or their religions character. Most of the Collegia became funerary and charitable in their labors, humble folk seeking to escape the dim, hopeless obscurity of plebeian life, and the still more hopeless obscurity of death. Pathetic beyond words are some of the inscriptions
telling of the horror and loneliness of the grave, of the day when no kindly eye would read the forgot ten name, and no hand bring offerings of flowers. Each collegium held memorial services, and marked the tomb of its dead with the emblems of its trade if a baker, with a loaf of bread; if a builder, with a square, compasses, and the level.
From the first the Colleges of Architects seem to have enjoyed special privileges and exemptions, owing to the value of their service to the state, and while we do not find them called Free-masons they were such in law and fact long before they wore the name. They were permitted to have their own constitutions and regulations, both secular and religious. In form, in officers, in emblems a Roman Collegium resembled very much a modern Masonic Lodge. For one thing, no College could consist of less than three persons, and so rigid was this rule that the saying, “three make a college,” became a maxim of law. Each College was presided over by a Magister, or Master, with two decuriones, or wardens, each of whom extended the commands of the Master to “the brethren of his column.” There were a secretary, a treasurer, and a keeper of archives, and, as the colleges were in part religious and usually met near some temple, there was a sacrerdos, or, as we would say, a priest, or chaplain. The members were of three orders, not unlike apprentices, fellows, and masters, or colleagues. What ceremonies of initiation were used we do not know, but that they were of a religious nature seems certain, as each College adopted a patron deity from among the many then worshiped. Also, as the Mysteries of Isis and Mithra ruled the Roman world by turns, the ancient drama of eternal life was never far away.
Of the emblems of the Collegia, it is enough to say that here again we find the simple tools of the builder used as teachers of truth for life and hope in death. Upon a number of sarcophagi, still extant, we find carved the square, the compasses, the cube, the plummet, the circle, and always the level. There is, besides, the famous Collegium uncovered at the excavation of Pompeii in 1878, having been buried under the ashes and lava of Mount Vesuvius since the year 79 A. D. It stood near the Tragic Theater, not far from the Temple of Isis, and by its arrangement, with two columns in front and interlaced triangles on the walls, was identified as an ancient lodge room. Upon a pedestal in the room was found a rare bit of art, unique in design and exquisite in execution, now in the National Museum at Naples. It is described by S. R. Forbes, in his Rambles in Naples, as follows:
It is a mosaic table of square shape, Axed in a strong, wooden frame. The ground is of grey green stone, in the middle of which is a human skull, made of white, grey, and black colors. In appearance the skull is quite natural. The eyes, nostrils, teeth, ears, and coronal are all well executed. Above the skull is a level of colored wood, the points being of brass; and from the top to the point, by a white thread, is suspended a plumb-line. Below the skull is a wheel of Six Spokes, and on the upper rim of the wheel there is a butterfly with wings of red, edged with yellow; its eyes blue. . . On the left is an upright spear, resting on the ground; from this there hangs, attached to a golden cord, a garment of scarlet, also a purple robe; whilst the upper part of the spear is surrounded by a white braid of diamond pattern. To the right is a gnarled thorn stick, from which hangs a coarse, shaggy piece of cloth in yellow, grey, and brown colors, tied with a ribbon; and above it is a leather knapsack. . . Evidently this work of art, by its composition, is mystical and symbolical.
No doubt; and for those who know the meaning of these emblems there is a feeling of kinship with those men, long since fallen into dust, who gathered about such an altar. They wrought out in this work of art their vision of the old-worn pilgrim way of life, with its vicissitude and care, the level of mortality to which all are brought at last by death, and the winged, fluttering hope of man. Always a journey with its horny staff and wallet, life is sometimes a battle needing a spear, but for him who walks uprightly by the plumb-line of rectitude, there is a true and victorious hope at the end.
Of wounds and sore defeat I made my battle stay, Winged sandals for my feet I wove of my delay.
Of weariness and fear I made a shouting spear, Of loss and doubt and dread And swift on-coming doom I made a helmet for my head, And a waving plume.
Christianity, whose Founder was a Carpenter, made a mighty appeal to the working classes of Rome. As Deissmann and Harnack have shown, the secret of its expansion in the early years was that it came down to the man in the street with its message of hope and joy. Its appeal was hardly heard in high places, but it was welcomed by the men who were weary and heavy ladened. Among the Collegia it made rapid progress, its Saints taking the place of pagan deities as patrons, and its spirit of love welding men into closer, truer union. When Diocletian determined to destroy Christianity, he was strangely lenient and patient with the Collegia, so many of whose members were of that faith. Not until they refused to make a statue of Esculapius did he vow vengeance and turn on them, venting his fury. In the persecution that followed four Masons and one humble apprentice suffered cruel torture and death, but they became the Four Crowned Martyrs, the story of whose heroic fidelity unto death haunted the legends of later times. (Their names were Claudius, Nicostratus, Simphorianus, Castorius, and Simplicius. Later their bodies were brought from Rome to Toulouse where they were placed in a chapel erected in their honor in the church of St Sernin (Martyrology, by Du Saussay). They became patron saints of Masons in Germany, France, and England (A. Q. C., xii, 196). In a fresco on the walls of the church of St. Lawrence at Rotterdam, partially preserved, they are painted with compasses and trowel in hand. With them, however, is another figure, clad in oriental robe, also holding compasses, but with a royal, not a martyr’s, crown. Is he Solomon? Who else can he be? The fresco dates from 1641, and was painted by F. Wounters (A. Q. C., xii, 202). Even so, those humble workmen, faithful to their faith, became saints of the church, and reign with Solomon! Once the fresco was whitewashed, but the coating fell off and they stood forth with compasses and trowel as before.) They were the patron saints alike of Lombard and Tuscan builders, and, later, of the working Masons of the Middle Ages, as witness the poem in their praise in the oldest record of the Craft, the Regius MS.
With the breaking up of the College of Architects and their expulsion from Rome, we come upon a period in which it is hard to follow their path. Happily the task has been made less baffling by recent research, and if we are unable to trace them all the way much light has been let into the darkness. Hitherto there has been a hiatus also in the history of architecture between the classic art of Rome, which is said to have died when the Empire fell to pieces, and the rise of Gothic art Just so, in the story of the builders one finds a gap of like length, between the Collegia of Rome and the cathedral artists. While the gap cannot, as yet, be perfectly bridged, much has been done to that end by Leader Scott in The Cathedral Builders: The Story of a Great Masonic Guild – a book itself a work of art as well as of fine scholarship. Her thesis is that the missing link is to be found in the Magistri Comacini, a guild of architects who, on the break-up of the Roman Empire, fled to Comacina, a fortified island in Lake Como, and there kept alive the traditions of classic art during the Dark Ages; that from them were developed in direct descent the various styles of Italian architecture; and that, finally, they carried the knowledge and practice of architecture and sculpture into France, Spain, Germany, and England. Such a thesis is difficult, and, from its nature, not susceptible of absolute proof, but the writer makes it as certain as anything can well be.
While she does not positively affirm that the Comacine Masters were the veritable stock from which the Freemasonry of the present day sprang, “we may admit,” she says, “that they were the link between the classic Collegia and all other art and trade
Guilds of the Middle Ages. They were Freemasons because they were builders of a privileged class, absolved from taxes and servitude, and free to travel about in times of feudal bondage.” The name Free-mason – Libera muratori B may not actually have been used thus early, but the Comacines were in fact free builders long before the name was employed – free to travel from place to place, as we see from their migrations; free to fix their own prices, while other workmen were bound to feudal lords, or by the Statutes of Wages. The author quotes in the original Latin an Edict of the Lombard King Rotharis, dated November 22, 643, in which certain privileges are confirmed to the Magistri Cormacini and their colligantes. From this Edict it is clear that it is no new order that is alluded to, but an old and powerful body of Masters capable of acting as architects, with men who executed work under them. For the Comacines were not ordinary workmen, but artists, including architects, sculptors, painters, and decorators, and if affinities of style left in stone be adequate evidence, to them were due the changing forms of architecture in Europe during the cathedral- building period. Everywhere they left their distinctive impress in a way so unmistakable as to leave no doubt.
Under Charlemagne the Comacines began their many migrations, and we find them following the missionaries of the church into remote places, from Sicily to Britain, building churches. When Augustine went to convert the British, the Comacines followed to provide shrines, and Bede, as early as 674, in mentioning that builders were sent for from Gaul to build the church at Wearmouth, uses phrases and words found in the Edict of King Rotharis. For a long time the changes in style of architecture, appearing simultaneously everywhere over Europe, from Italy to England, puzzled students. (History of Middle Ages, Hallam, vol. ii, 547.) Further knowledge of this powerful and widespread order explains it. It also accounts for the fact that no individual architect can be named as the designer of any of the great cathedrals. Those cathedrals were the work, not of individual artists, but of an order who planned, built, and adorned them. In 1355 the painters of Siena seceded, as the German Masons did later, and the names of individual artists who worked for fame and glory begin to appear; but up to that time the Order was supreme. Artists from Greece and Asia Minor, driven from their homes, took refuge with the Comacines, and Leader Scott finds in this order a possible link, by tradition at least, with tile temple of Solomon. At any rate, all through the Dark Ages the name and fame of the Hebrew king lived in the minds of the builders.
An inscribed stone, dating from 712, shows that the Comacine Guild was organized as Magistri and Discipuli, under a Gastaldo, or Grand Master, the very same terms as were kept in the lodges later. Moreover, they called their meeting places loggia, a long list of which the author recites from the records of various cities, giving names of officers, and, often, of members. They, too, had their masters and wardens, their oaths, tokens, grips, and passwords which formed a bond of union stronger than legal ties. They wore white aprons and gloves, and revered the Four Crowned Martyrs of the Order. Square, compasses, level, plum-line, and arch appear among their emblems. “King Solomon’s Knot” was one of their symbols, and the endless, interwoven cord, symbol of Eternity which has neither beginning nor end, was another. Later, however, the Lion’s Paw seems to have become their chief emblem.
From illustrations given by the author they are shown in their regalia, with apron and emblems, clad as the keepers of a great art and teaching of which they were masters.
Here, of a truth, is something more than prophecy, and those who have any regard for facts will not again speak lightly of an order having such ancestors as the great Comacine Masters. Had Ferguison known their story, he would not have paused in his History of Architecture to belittle the Freemasons as incapable of designing a cathedral, while puzzling the while as to who did draw the plans for those dreams of beauty and prayer. Hereafter, if any one asks to know who uplifted those massive piles in which was portrayed the great drama of mediaeval worship, he need not remain uncertain. With the decline of Gothic architecture the order of Free-masons also suffered decline, as we shall see, but did not cease to exist B continuing its symbolic tradition amidst varying, and often sad, vicissitude until 1717, when it became a fraternity teaching spiritual faith by allegory and moral science by symbols.
(Note – Whatever the origin of Freemasonry, its practical value the same. The Nile blessed Egypt whether the origin of it was the Mountains of the Moon, or a Lake in Central Africa; so of the fertilizing stream of Masonry. None the less we should go as far back as we can in search of the source, and far we have been picking our way amidst many cults and rites in quest of hints and prophecies of the Craft Naturally the record is less definite than in the pages following but it has its value and much remains to be explored in the Museum of Antiquity. Meanwhile – we may observe:
I – The Dionysiac Artificers are the first order of architects, of which we have record, who were a secret order practicing the rites of the Mysteries. Prof. Robinson writes: “We know that the Dionysiacs of lonia were a great corporation of architects and engineers, who undertook, and even monopolized, tile building of temples and stadia, precisely as the fraternity of Freemasons monopolized the building of cathedrals and conventual churches in the Middle Ages. Indeed, the Dionysiacs resembled in. many respects the mystic fraternity now called Freemasons. They allowed no strangers to interfere in their employment; they recognized each other by signs and to’s, they professed certain mysterious doctrines under the tutulage of Bacahus, (who represented the Sun, and was the outward symbol of One God, so that the worship of the Dionysiacs resolved itself into a worship of the One God) to whom they built a magnificent temple at Teos, where they celebrated his mysteries at solemn festivals, and they called all other men profane because not admitted to their mysteries.” (Article on the Arch in Brewster’s Edinburgh Encyclopedia.)
II – While the contention of leader Scott that the Comacine Masters are the real ancestors of Freemasonry has not yet been entirely established and may never he put beyond question, it is believed that it puts us on track of the truth. Further researches by W. Ravenscroft, in his essay on The Comacines, Their Predecessors and Successors, tend to confirm it, albeit we may not be able to accept his theory about their predecssors. Still, the investigation is not yet adjourned, and we may wisely wait its further results. It does offer an explanation, first, of the building of the cathedrals, which could not have been erected by Guild-masons; and the Comacines did have the forms and symbols of Masonry very like what they are today. They were an order of Artists, an aristocracy, to be sure, but an aristocracy of service, of such as Carlyle and
Ruskin would have admired. They were also democratic, because industry and merit enabled a worthy workman to attain the highest honors. In spirit, therefore, as well as in form and symbol, they were Masonic. (See a noble passage in Michelet’s History of France on the spirit of cathedral Masonry.)
III – If in the following pages emphasis is laid upon the historcal development of Masonry, it is because this is a book of history. Many mystical influences entered into the making of Masonry, but they are of a kind which cannot be traced historically or estimated accurately. Traces of Gnosticism, of Mithraism, are found, remnants of rites long forgotten; and the impress of the Kahalah is unmistakable, as Bro. Waite has shown in his lecture on Some Deeper Aspect of Masonic Symbolism (see also “Freemasonry Illustrated by the Kahalali,” by W. W. Westcott A. Q. C. i, 55). It has been deemed better, in a book of Introduction, to fix attention on the historical aspects of Craft, leaving the student free to follow further as his inclination and studies may direct.