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Symbolic Machinery

Machinery is a term employed in epic and dramatic poetry to denote some agency introduced by the poet to serve some purpose or accomplish some event. Faber, in treating of the Apocalypse, speaks of "a patriarchal scheme of symbolical machinery derived most plainly from the events of the Dehlge, and borrowed, with the usual perverse misapplication, by the contrivers of paganism, but which has since been reclaimed by Christianity to its proper use." Doctor Oliver thinks that this "scheme of symbolical machinery" was "the primitive Freemasonry, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols." But, without adopting this questionable hypothesis, it must be admitted that Freemasonry, in seenue representations sometimes used in its initiations, has, like the epic poets, and drama tints, and the old hierophants, availed itself of the use of symbolic machinery.



The science which is engaged in the investigation of the meaning of symbols, and the application of their interpretation to moral, religious, and philosophical instruction. In this sense, Freemasonry is essentially a Science of Symbolism. The English lectures define Freemasonry to be "a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols." The definition would be more correct were it in these words: Freemasonry is a system of morality developed and inculcated by the science of symbolism. It is this peculiar character as a symbolic institution, this entire adoption of the method of instruction by symbolism, which gives its whole identity to Freemasonry and has caused it to differ from every other association that the ingenuity of man has devised. It is this that has bestowed upon it that attractive form which has always secured the attachment of its disciples and its own perpetuity.

The Roman Catholic Church is, perhaps, the only contemporaneous institution which continues to cultivate, in any degree, the beautiful system of symbolism. But that which, in the Roman Catholic Church, is, in a great measure, incidental, and the fruit of development, is, in Freemasonry, the very life-blood and soul of the Institution, born with it at its birth, or, rather, the germ from which the tree has sprung, and still giving it support, nourishment, and even existence. Withdraw from Freemasonry its symbolism, and you take from the body its soul, leaving behind nothing but a lifeless mass of effete matter, fitted only for a rapid decay. Since, then, the science of symbolism forms so important a part of the system of Freemasonry, it will be well to commence any discussion of that subject by an investigation of the nature of symbols in general.

There is no science so ancient as that of symbolism, and no mode of instruction has ever been so general as was the symbolic in former ages. "The first learning in the world," says the great antiquary, Doctor Stukely, "consisted chiefly of symbols. The wisdom of the Chaldeans, Phenicians, Egyptians, Jews, of Zoroaster, Sanchoniathon, Pherecydes, Syrus, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, of all the ancients that is come to our hand, is symbolic." The learned Faber remarks, that "allegory and personification were peculiarly agreeable to the genius of antiquity, and the simplicity of truth was continually sacrificed at the shrine of poetical decoration." In fact, man's earliest instruction was by symbols. The objective character of a symbol is best calculated to be grasped by the infant mind, whether the infancy of that mind be considered nationally or individually Hence, in the first ages of the world in its infancy, all propositions, theological, political, or scientific were expressed in the form of symbols. Thus the first religions were eminently symbolical, because, as that great philosophical historian, Grote, has remarked, "At a time when language was yet in its infaney, visible symbols were the most vivid means of acting upon the minds of ignorant hearers."

Even in the very formation of language, the medium of communication between man and man, and which must hence have been an elementary step in the progress of human improvement, it was found necessary to have recourse to symbols, for words are only and truly certain arbitrary symbols by which and through which we give an utterance to our ideas. The construction of language was, therefore, one of the first products of the science of symbolism. We must constantly bear in mind this fact of the primary existence and predominance of symbolism in the earliest times, when we are investigating the nature of the ancient religions, with which the history of Freemasonry is so intimately connected. The older the religion, the more the symbolism abounds. Modern religions may convey their dogmas in abstract propositions; ancient religions always conveyed them in symbols.

Thus there is more symbolism in the Egyptian religion than in the Jewish, more in the Jewish than in the Christian, more in the Christian than in the Mohammedan, and, lastly, more in the Roman than in the Protestant.

But symbolism is not only the most ancient and general, but it is also the most practically useful, of sciences. We have already seen how actively it operates in the early stages of life and of society. We have seen how the first ideas of men and of nations are impressed upon their minds by means of symbols. It was thus that the ancient peoples were almost wholly educated. "In the simpler stages of society," says one writer on this subject, "mankind can be instructed in the abstract knowledge of truths only by symbols and parables. Hence we find most heathen religions becoming mythic or explaining their mysteries by allegories, or instructive incidents. Nay, God Himself, knowing the nature of the creatures formed by him, has condescended, in the earlier revelations that He made of Himself, to teach by symbols; and the greatest of all Teaehers instructed the multitudes by parables. The great exemplar of the ancient philosophy and the grand archetype of modern philosophy were alike distinguished by their possessing this faculty in a high degree, and have told us that man was best instructed by similitudes."

Such is the system adopted in Freemasonry for the development and inculcation of the great religious and philosophical truths, of which it was, for so many years, the sole conservator. And it is for this reason that we have already remarked, that any inquiry into the symbolic character of Freemasonry, must be preceded by an investigation of the nature of symbolism in general, if we would properly appreciate its particular use in the organization of the Masonic Institution.

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