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Symbols, Masonic

A symbol is some object, design, device, etc., which signifies or suggests some truth, idea, cause, ideal, etc.; what it is in itself is unimportant, because it is not used to call attention to itself but to call attention to that for which it stands; its sole function is thus to call the attention of a man to its meaning because it itself has nothing to say or to teach; and it is used where it is needed or desired that men shall keep certain truths, doctrines, etc., before them at a certain time. Although the two belong to the same general category "of things that point, or signify, or denote," a symbol differs in essence from an emblem.

The latter is itself the thing it stands for, but is only one form or instance of it. A sword is war, because it is a weapon; as an emblem it stands for each and every other weapon, and hence denotes war; a bee-hive is an emblem because it is itself an instance of the power of industriousness. An allegory is a truth, doctrine, idea, ideal, ete., which is told in the form of a story; the story may be oral or may be written down, or it may be enacted like a play the allegories of the Building of the Temple and of the Search for That Which Was Lost are enacted. A rite is an end in itself, does not point to something outside itself, but is enacted for its own sake, and delivers its meaning in the process of enactment. Symbols, emblems, allegories, and rites are as universal as language --no people or period of history has yet been discovered without them; Freemasonry is not peculiar because it uses them, but it is one of the few societies in the modern world which has a teaching for its members and which delivers that teaching solely in the symbolic form.

Without any exception each symbol, emblem, allegory, and rite employed in the Degrees (of each of the Five Rites) is in use, or has been in use, outside of Freemasonry; a few of them (the Square, Cirele, Pillars, etc.) have been in use almost without exception by every people in the world, and in every known century. It is meaningless to argue that if some Masonic symbol or rite now employed by Freemasonry is found to have been employed by some people or society elsewhere therefore Freemasonry originated in it; if carried to its logical conclusion this argument results in saying that Freemasonry was originated by everybody, everywhere. Freemasonry did not invent its own symbols; they were here beforehand; it adopted such of them as it required, and employed them for its own purposes, just as it has taken from the English language the words it has needed for its own nomenclature. The only admissible canon or principle of interpretation of symbols is therefore plain: a symbol is a Masonic symbol in the sense that Freemasonry makes use of it; the meaning of the symbol is a Masonic meaning, and it is to be interpreted in the terms of its purpose for Freemasonry. What the same symbol means, or may have meant elsewhere, is irrelevant. The Rite of Circumambulation was practiced by the Brahmins in India 1600 B.C.; it is not used in each of the Three Degrees to teach Brahminism. The religion of Mithraism had a ceremony which was strikingly like the rite of Raising in the Master Mason Degree; that Degree does not teach Mithraism. Freemasonry itself is the interpretation of its own symbols.

(For general worlds on symbolism see The Migration of Symbols, by Count Goblet D'alviela; Arehibald Constable & Co.; Westminster; 1894. [He was a Belgian savant; member of the Senate. This is one of the masterpieces on the subject; has chapters on Swastika, Tree of Life, Winged Globes, Caduceus, etc.] Symbolism of Churches and Church Ornaments, by William Durandus; [A classic; deals with ecclesiastical symbolism of Romanesque churches. ] The Romance of Symbolism, by Sidney Heath; F. GiEths; London; 1909. Symbols and Emblems of Early and Medieval Christian Art, by Louisa Twining; John Murray; 1885. Symbolism of the East and West, by Mrs. Murray-Aynsley; George Redway; London; 1900. [Chapters on Sun and Moon; Tau Cross; Sacred Stones; Saered Trees; Swastika, and Arehiteetural Customs; etc.] The Gnostics and Their Remains, by C. W. King; G. P. Putnam's Sons; New York; 1887. Symbolism in Christian Art, by Edward F. Hulme; Swan Sonneschein & Co.; London; and Maemillan; biew York; 1909 [5th ed]. [The author is a leading authority on Medieval subjects.] The Migration of Symbols, by Donald MacKenzie; Alfred A. Knopf; 1926. [Reviewed in The Builder. Not a Masonic book, but written with Masonry in mind.] Anczent Art and Ritual, by Jane Ellen Harrison; Home University Library, published by Henry Holt & Co.; New York. Animal Symbolism in Ecclesiacfical Architecture, by E. P. Evans; Henry Holt & Co.; IN'evw York; 1906. [Extraordinarily interesting; should be read by Masonic students. Contains much on the Physiologus, an old book, widely read in the Middle Ages, on animals; see artiele on "Bestiaries" in the Encyclopedia Britannica.] Symbolism qf Animals and Birds, by Arthur H. Collins; MeBride Sast & Co.; New York; 1913. Studies in Biblical and Semitic Symbolism, by Maruice H. Farbridge; Kegan Paula French, Trubner & Co.; London; 1925. [In Trubner Oriental Series. Chapters on Acacia; the lion; the eagle; symbolism of numbers; discalceation and desti tution; colors; gematria; etc.] Medieval Italy, by H B. Cotterill; George C. Harrap; London; 1915 [In Great Nation Series; an excellent chapter on mosaiesw two chapters on architecture.] Masonic books on Craft symbolism are numbered by the hundreds; of them the following are representative; Ars Quatuor Coronatorum. Symbolism of Freemasonry, by Albert G. Mackey. Symbolism of the Three Degrees, by Oliver Day Street. Symbolical Masonry, by H. L. Haywood Thoughts Otl Masonic Symbolism, by C. C. Hunt.)

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