The Symbol Behind the Symbol...
Archaeologists have discovered many old cities, built on ruins of still older cities, which in turn were erected upon the ruins of cities still older These several cities were built, existed for a time, were destroyed and forgotten and new cities built above The artifacts found at the top are totally different tram those found at the bottom of the complete excavations as is natural, since the several cities may have been thousands of years in the building life, destruction and rebuilding.
Many common words in English must be read in context if they are to be understood, which is one of the reasons those who speak other languages from birth find English so difficult. The “good” man may be either the moral man or the physically strong man. The “good” earth is that which grows crops well, while “good” credit is trustworthiness of him who posses it; a “good” game may be either one which men like to play, or so well played that men like to watch it.
Symbols are sometimes described as the universal language because they present the message in a way that is understood by all and do not depend on words that are different in various languages The word “symbol” is defined as a thing that represents something else by association; in Freemasonry it might be defined as a material object that represents a basic moral truth or lesson Symbolism is part of everyday living Masonic symbols are like the many buried cities of Ur of the Chaldee; similar to the many words which mean different things at different times to different people when used in different ways, rt may be too much to say that all Masonic symbols have more than one meaning, but it is certainly true that most of those objects or ideas or practices which we call symbols have at least two and most of them many meanings.
As a rule only one-and that the simplest-is described in the ritual. The rest, the individual brother is supposed to hunt out for himself. Symbolism is the life blood of the Craft it is the principal vehicle by which the ritual teaches Masonic philosophy and moral lessons.
A Large book would be required to list all masonic symbols and even suggest the several meanings of each. All that may be attempted here is a suggestion of the “symbol behind the symbol” in a few of Masonry’s pictures. The word “pictures” here refers to the oft quoted definition of Masonry. “a beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols”.
A symbol, then is a picture. But it is not a mirror, which shows only what stands before it. It is an illustration which has more than one meaning.
The first, and among the most impressive symbols of Masonry to confront the candidate, to most initiates is the apron. The candidate is told that it is “an emblem of innocence and a badge of a mason”.
What is “innocence”, as the word here is used? Surely not ignorance! The lamb, the baby, the lily are “innocent”, in the sense they know nothing especially nothing of evil But a man grown, and no male less than a man grown may be a mason, must know evil to distinguish the good Therefore, innocence as taught by the apron must be other than ignorance.
The operative apron was not necessarily white. When it gave way to a smaller apron of lambskin, white the colour of “innocence” it became associated with it. The innocence is that of intent not to do evil, not of knowledge of evil. The mason is “innocent” when his heart is gentle towards weakness, chivalrous toward those dependent upon him, tolerant of his fellows’ weaknesses, forgiving of his brethren’s mistakes. The mason who reads into his newly acquired lambskin the thought that it is a badge signifying that it is an honour to do constructive work, has a hold of the symbol behind the symbol of innocence and the real value of that which is “more ancient than the golden fleece. The initiate learns the importance of the cornerstone, little stress is laid upon it. Many remain ignorant of its principal significance, the “symbol behind the symbol” which is the necessity of sacrifice in any well ordered life.
The whole subject of cornerstone layings, cornerstone ceremonies and rites of the dark ages when superstitions ran rife. The rite survives only in the beautiful modern masonic ceremony of laying the cornerstone of buildings. We have the ceremony; we forget, most of us, its origin. But in freemasonry he who hunts for the symbol behind the symbol will find in the emphasis upon the cornerstone the need of sacrifice of time, or effort, of thought which all good masons must make to the betterment of their communities.
“and they went up with the winding stairs into the middle chamber.” (1 Kings VI – 8). The winding stairs is one of the great symbols of the fellowcraft degree. It has a hidden, a covered, a buried meaning not easily to be seen without some intensive looking and not even hinted at in the ritual. Philosophers of masons have seen a deeper meaning in the stairs than that which is presented in the ritual. They find in the winding stairs that incentive to courage without which no man successfully combats the evils, dangers, and misfortunes of life. THE POINT IS THE STAIRS WIND.
It does not take courage to climb a straight stair, on which ·very step can be seen from one before and the top is in view from the beginning. If there are perils on the way on a straight stair, they can be noted and preparations made. But on a winding stair only one or two steps ahead are visible. What is around the corner? To what difficulties or dangers does progress on an unseen stairway lead? It takes courage to ascend . The angel of death may stand with sword drawn around the next bend. There may be lions in the path, difficulties to surmount, danger. to overcome. Yet man climbs, aye, he climbs because he is a man, a man grown, a man self sufficient, and willing, and able to face what life brings. The fellow craft degree as a whole is a preparation for successful manhood; nothing within it has a greater incentive for him who can see with mental eyes the symbol behind the symbol of the winding stairs.
The letter “G” its obvious meanings. But why the emphasis upon geometry. Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good. (I Thessalonians V:21). There is no such thing as proof of a belief which has no evidence; man cannot prove GOD in the same way in which he can “prove” an algebraic equation. Faith is a matter of the heart; Geometry is a matter of the mind. But there is a meeting point where mind and heart touch And there is a meeting point where Faith and Science touch. The “question of the watch” has confounded many who have refused to believe in a creator. It is impossible for the human mind to believe that a watch can make itself, wind itself. It must be the work of man. In as much as it can predict, it must work in accordance with natural laws. Geometry proves the visible universe to be a great watch. Geometry can predict the future, just as a watch can predict the interval of elapsed time before a certain hour. As, obviously, man did not create the solar system or the laws by which geometry can predict the eclipses, the sunrise and sunset, the phases of the moon, the tides, they must have had another, not a human, creator. Geometry proves that the universe runs according to law.
Masons name him the Creator Great Architect of the Universe. But it is geometry which produces the nearest possible “proof” of his existence. Hence the symbol behind the symbol of the letter “G” is the scientific demonstration not only that “order is heavens first law” but there is a creator, name him as you will.
One of the many mysteries, is the real content of the Master Masons degree. It is apparently, being unable to see the forest because there are so many trees; an inability to see the ocean because there are so many waves and so much foam. No greater ceremony to express man’s longing for and belief in immortality has yet been conceived; no more beautiful mental rainbow has ever arched through the skies of the mind than “THE SEARCH FOR THAT WHICH WAS LOST”.
Yet too many see only the literal story of the tragedy of Hiram and thus fail to see as their personal own, a vista which has for a far horizon, the realization of the dearest hope of all mankind. it is the basis for all the “searches” for the hope of the recovery of the Holy Grail; the wish for a faith which cannot be undermined; the longing for a certainty about life here and hereafter.
Had we lost merely a word, one or more syllables, how easy to invent another. But the “word which was lost” is the memory in man’s consciousness that there is a something beyond his senses, the knowledge they bring him, his understanding of the life he lives. it is his longing to possess this again, as racial memories demonstrate that he once possessed, which is masonically expressed in the search.
This is the symbol behind the symbol of a Master Mason.
Written by: Right Wor. Bro. Charles S. Smylie, who in all his travels discovered the strength of that not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens...