ILLUSTRATED BY SYMBOLS
ILLUSTRATED BY SYMBOLS
Dormer Masonic Study Circle #157
Of course the morality of Freemasonry must be illustrated by
symbols, for there is nothing else. Many papers, not just recent
ones, have pointed out that everything we use is a symbol. A
symbol is something we are familiar with, which, in addition to its
conventional meaning, has a specific connotation, beyond the
obvious one. It is not necessary to elaborate on the distinction and
difference between a sign and a symbol. No one has ever yet
"invented" a symbol - a sign yes, but symbol no. Symbols originate
in the subconscious. Every word is a sort of shorthand to express a
concept or define an object. Words mean more or less the same to
each of us, but . . . only more or less. Even the letters making up
the words have a deliberate meaning, form and a peculiar
relationship to each other.
Masonic symbols are generally architectural. They are borrowed
from architecture, which has been defined as living mathematics.
They are applied to the science of soul measurement and soul
development, to self knowledge, that most rewarding of all human
studies. But why should the square teach morality? What was the
process of logic, or was it a revelation, whereby this tool became
associated with this concept? We should not forget that the square
was used thus as a symbol in China over 6000 years ago. In the
definition of 'morality' is there not an element of both e.g. equality
and uprightness? If therefore there is a degree of arbitrariness in
allocating morality to the square, or the square to morality, how
much does this matter? What is important is that we try to fully
understand morality. Could you define "morality?" And of course,
distinguish it from "morality!" When we can do so, we no longer
need any symbol for it at all, and so could discard the square.
Put in another way, how may a glass of wine be interpreted as a
symbol? To one it could represent drunkenness, to another
abstention and teetotalism, while to a third it would suggest the
mellowness of moderation. So the meaning may very well depend
on the environment or context. It is probably true to say that a
symbol can never be precisely defined or fully explained. Symbols
are stimulating seed thoughts.
The cross in Western religion expresses a multitude of ideas,
emotions and aspects, but a cross after a name on a list can simply
mean that the individual is dead or has not paid his subscription.
The graffiti of a twelve year old boy may have an explicit
meaning, not present when an electrician speaks of male plugs and
female sockets, and we should get very refined ideas from an
educated Hindu on this significant and symbolic subject. The
meaning and significance depend on the context. However, just as
in Masonry, the square always teaches morality, so is it that when
we give the masonic fire or salutation, "Point, left, right," the Point
always refers to the Deity. (It does so in all degrees, not just the
Craft, and Royal Arch.) For in the Deity is the comprehensive con-
jointing of all opposites, represented by "left" and "right." There is
a tradition that when the Creation came into manifestation, the first
thing to appear was a Point, so the point (or Jod) is a symbol of
But a brother was recently heard to say he was looking for an
authoritative interpretation of symbols. If we might regard Dr. C.
G. Jung as something of an authority on symbols, we may take
note of some ideas which are expressed and fully elaborated in his
last work entitled "Man and his symbols." It is well known that
Jung regards dreams as a means used by the subconscious mind of
man to give sensible instruction to the conscious mind. (Instruction
here is used to include: awaken, warn, arouse, subdue, remind,
liberate, enlighten, provoke, restrain, enliven, direct . . . The sub-
conscious mind just has to get through to the conscious mind.)
Every aspect of a dream is of significance to the dreamer, who
alone can interpret it. He may of course be helped by a so called
psychoanalyst or psychologist, but the dreamer alone can assess
the validity of the interpretation. Jung also holds that the dream
contains its own key to the understanding of the dream's message.
The Talmud says "The dream is its own interpretation." In other
words, no dream symbol can be separated from the dreamer.
Curiously, this finds an exact parallel in modern scientific
research, where it is becoming accepted, perhaps reluctantly by
scientists, that the result of any research is NOT independent of the
So, with dreams, the dreamer gets instruction which originates
from within himself. In Freemasonry, a brother gets instruction by
a deliberately constructed system of morality. One may be
regarded as coming from "within," the other from "without," but
both are indeed illustrated by symbols.
Allegories are a way of stringing symbols together into coherence,
into some sort of story. Dreams use the equivalent of mixed
metaphors - they do not make sense - neither do allegories, if
examined too literally and closely. Dreams are vivid and
picturesque; so are allegories. It is the conscious mind, the
so-called intellect, which needs concepts trimmed of their
emotional and fantastic content. A paper such as this has to present
ideas in a somewhat cold, intellectual manner. This may seem to
be a rather one-sided concessions to man's developing need, and it
is possibly a result of the technological revolution over the last few
hundred years, with its emphasis and insistence on intellectual
appreciation, because it has been paralleled by a corresponding
decrease in man's use of his other perceptive faculties.
But there are a surprising number of individuals who never use
their minds at all if they can avoid it, and an equal number who do
use it but in an astonishingly naive way. Many wideawake people
live as if they never use their senses. They do not see the obvious
before them, hear not the sounds around them, and notice not the
things they touch. They are even unaware of their own bodies.
Others, being completely devoid of imagination, live as if the state
they had arrived at today were final, with no possibility of change,
as if both their inner and outer worlds were static and permanently
so. Truly thinking people apply their intellects to trying to adapt
themselves to people and circumstances; and there are equally
intelligent people who make their way by feeling.
Sensation (i.e. sense perception) which may be equated with the
Tyler, tells us something exists, the impressions having been
tationalised by the Inner Guard. Thinking and feeling, as just
described above, the junior Warden, tells us what it is and whether
it is agreeable. Intuition, the Senior Warden, tells us whence it
came and whither it shall go. Conscience, the Worshipful Master,
relates it to all other things, i.e. to the Unity of all things. (Note the
derivation of the word "conscience.") These functions of our being
are represented by these masonic symbols.
So the significance of a masonic symbol is quite deliberate, but
nevertheless is open to individual interpretation. Doubtless the
meanings attaching to the symbols in the mysteries of ancient
Egypt were equally deliberate. In a way, the meanings remain the
same, but the form the meaning is clothed with, changes. We can
quite easily imagine an Egyptian neophyte asking "Where did this
Osiris-Isis myth come from? Was Osiris a real person?" and
hearing an old Egyptian past master, on being prodded into
wakefulness, reply "We always did it the other way in my day . . .
we never asked questions." These questions need answers.
Do we not say "Masonry requires a perfect freedom of inclination
in every candidate?" What a symbol means is not independent of
the individual. Our masonic symbols are almost too well defined.
If they always meant exactly the same thing, a symbol would
become a mere word, and the word a collection of meaningless
letters. Is it not written "The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth
So, Brethren, let us remember that Freemasonry is a means to an
end, an end which is far more important than the means. And
likewise with its symbols. They too are unimportant compared
with what the symbol means to you, for man in his present state
can never really understand or comprehend anything.
The aims of Freemasonry are not limited to one form of operation, or
one mode of benevolence, its object is at once moral and social. It proposes
both to cultivate the mind and enlarge and purify the heart. REV. J.O.