Bro. B.C. Portsmouth, Victoria Park Lodge, No. 48,
Few people realise, amid the hurry and scurry of modern
existence, how large a part symbolism plays in the life of every person.
To give you a topical illustration, the solemn crowning
of England's young Queen means much, much more than the simple circling of
her head with a glittering crown. It is symbolic of greater things than
ordinary citizens realise. Such ceremonies date back long before recorded
history, and even as each solemn act has its own special meaning,
understood by few, so has symbolism in general, and Masonic symbolism in
particular, a great unrealised background - and a world of meaning often
lies behind each simple act or movement.
So very many of our Masonic signs and symbols have come
down to us through almost uncounted generations, that it is quite
understandable how sometimes the symbol has been mistaken for the original
fact. In the days when Egypt was great in mind-power, the people of Egypt
were divided into three kinds, divided more by mental attainment and
capacity than by possessions or lineage. First, there were the "common"
people - and I must point out that the meaning of this word in modem
understanding is somewhat different from its meaning in those far- off
days. By "common", we should mean vulgar or rough - in those days, the
"common" people were simply the thousands of normal, uneducated labourers.
The second division was the "educated" group - and as the priests were
almost the only people capable of giving instruction, education was almost
wholly confined to priest-families, and noble-families, or proteges of
either. The third group, very small in number, comprised those who sought
inner meanings, and who cultivated their mind-senses, thus taking
education a step further.
Thus, the religion of those days could be viewed from
three quite different angles. The "common" man (even as today in many
countries still) obeyed the orders of his superiors, and was not expected
to think for himself, indeed was scarcely capable of so doing. He could
neither read nor write nor figure and his knowledge was practically always
confined to the "tricks" of whatever trade he was bound to, whether
vine-growing, stone-masonry, household tasks, or labouring on a noble's
estate. The beliefs of the "common" man, therefore, had to be inculcated
entirely by spoken word or by picture - there is no alternative where
there is no education! Religious instruction, also, had to be by symbol.
Such a man could be taught, by the spoken word, that the Maker of All, the
Great Architect who planned and made the Sun and Moon, the Stars, the Wind
and the Rain, and all the other great forces of Nature, was the Great RA -
but how, if he knew not the arts of reading and writing, was it possible
to express "Maker of...." ......... in picture? The sun symbol, therefore,
among the "common" people, became the symbol of RA, the Lord of All - the
In generations when knowledge was not disseminated to
the common people, it can readily be understood that the Sacred Symbol,
the sign of RA, would become distorted in meaning - and sun-worshippers
could easily be the result (instead of RA - worshippers, with the sun for
The second section of people, those who sought, or were
given, education by right of birth, were taught more than were the common
people. The ordinary "Picture" language, which was all that the simple
peasant could understand, was interpreted and enlarged upon to the man who
sought education. He was taught to fashion the accepted symbols, and to
express his thoughts in these and other symbols. His mind began to
function in a more orderly fashion, as he was taught to count (in numbers
far exceeding his own fingers and toes, which was the ultimate accuracy of
most ordinary men, to make calculations mentally (without the aid of
sticks and stones and counters), and to think originally! The people who
belonged to this section knew symbols for what they were. POINTERS TO
UNDERSTANDING - not the whole belief!
In the unenlightened ages, the common folk would not
even know the meaning of the symbols - living and procreating were almost
their sole interests - while the "educated" would retain simply the
"surface" knowledge, learning, in their childhood, to fashion the symbols
and characters, but knowing, and caring, little of their meanings.
Thus would the characters be handed down, generation
after generation, with less and less understanding, if the priesthood were
darkened and uncaring to teach and to know of the Light.
Then the third section, the higher ranks of the
Priesthood. In the time when the Light of RA burned brightly, the young
men were diligently taught the meanings and the import of the symbolic
language. Their work was then to instruct the common people, to bring to
them a simple understanding of the God who made the Sun and the Moon - and
who also made them! The older Priests were themselves learners in the
School of Wisdom, which has, throughout all the ages, entailed a voluntary
search, and a mental understanding. As today, in Masonic Lodges and
ceremonies, some priests became expert in ritual and its punctilious
observance - others sought power through high office - while the few cared
nought for office or ceremonial, merely accepting it as a duty, but sought
the deeper meaning and the soul-unfoldment behind the Ritual and behind
So, in those far-off days when Egypt was mind-great,
the Light shone brightly and clearly for the few (in the knowledge and
sincere seeking of years) - it was disseminated in a golden glow to the
younger men of the priesthood and the nobility - and Egypt's thousands of
peasant families knew the sign of the Sun to be His symbol - the Sun was
one of His creations, not the object to be worshipped!
Even as today, the deeper meaning was only given to the
few - and every man had perforce to seek for himself. Instruction and
knowledge were there, on the higher levels, for those who were fitted to
learn - but the way was hard! The Teachers were trained to use their
mental eyes and ears - their eyes searched for the symbols of guidance -
their ears listened for the word, and if it came not, they knew that the
seeker was not ready for further enlightenment. Every Teacher knew the
Light in his soul and innermost being, through a lifetime of seeking and
training - and he knew RA, the Most High, the Maker of Heaven and Earth,
the Great Architect of the Universe - and Holy was His Name. In our
ceremonies, a word is given to initiates, so that fellow-seekers may
recognise him as a Brother. Signs and tokens and symbols are revealed to
him, as he progresses along the Masonic path, but once these signs and
symbols were revealed mentally, and the ability to receive them mentally,
showed the candidate's readiness for advancement. It is so, even today, in
certain sects in America (not Masonic sects, but groups vowed to mental,
spiritual and psychic study). Our Masonic Ritual shows no signs of such a
custom - we have only the symbols left!
Symbols! - everyday life is full of symbols, and so
many people never manage to get past them. They gaze at the symbols as at
the shining images in a sacred building. Even today, in many churches of
Christendom, the language of imagery is largely used. Unobservant and
ignorant people think that the worshippers worship these sacred images -
but the statues, large or tiny, are only symbols for the Person, or
Persons, they represent.
The most ancient races of whom there are any records,
made these records almost entirely in the language of symbolism. The early
statuary of such lands as Egypt and Assyria, was an attempt to give shape
to the imaginations of the potters - the sculptors of those and even
earlier times were really "thinking aloud". Only a strong imagination, in
these modern days, can help us to understand the symbolism which the
sculpture of Ancient Egypt grew to be. The sculptors created magnificent
forms to represent the gods which their more knowledgeable and racially -
advanced leaders conceived as ruling the world, and in the making and
setting - up of those symbols, they sought to propitiate the great
To guide them they built up, through the centuries, a
definite and powerful religion comprising simply the few primary ideas -
the consciousness of Life - the certainty and mystery of Death - the fear
of the Unknown - and the inner knowledge of the existence of some Great
Person or Force. The set of rules or symbols which became the governing
code of their lives, helped them to face with courage and calmness the
inevitable "Death". and the unknown (or almost unknown) Hereafter.
In later centuries, the statuary which is now described
as "Egyptian Art" was really born. Representation of long-dead heroes and
kings, and their glorified deeds, show, in their largeness of spirit, and
their grandeur of symbolism, the central idea of that long-dead race.
ENDURINGNESS seems to be this idea - hugeness - calmness - and
enduringness! The calm, weather - worn features of the Sphinx, seem to
personify this idea - colossal symbols in stone of the mysterious,
all-powerful, all-pervading Architect of the Universe! The 150 ft. long.
70 ft. high, portrayal of this man-headed-lion symbol, the mighty Sphinx
near the Great Pyramid at Gizeh, gazes out upon the "lone and level sands"
with unutterable calmness, the inscrutability, and the enduringness, of
the Creator- God.
Those who have studied Art through the centuries, say
that Mind's expression seems to show a definite trend from symbolism to
realism - from allegory to reality - and they say that this expression is
making "full circle", in the queer "realistic" and "futuristic" art of the
present day. These Art-studiers, who claim to understand this modern trend
in decoration and design, say that it is pure imagery - if that is so,
then Art must surely be at the beginning of a new cycle - the period of
formless, unreal striving after expression - the symbolism of our ancient
forefathers. To return to everyday thought - the average man hardly
realises how much of modern life is symbolic!
The symbolism and imagery of the various Churches is
simply reminding, by sight instead of word, of Christ and His mission in
life on earth.
We build great War Memorials, whether stone monuments
or hospital buildings, as a symbol that the dead are not forgotten! We
say: "At the going down of the sun ... we will remember them", on Poppy
Day, and at other times. Our marble-laden cemeteries, and our Shrines of
Remembrance, all carry on the same idea.
Does the bereaved father really imagine that the marble
effigy in the churchyard is his beloved child? Of course not.
Does he really imagine that the placing of that
tombstone there will affect the wee babe he lost? Of course he does not -
but the symbolism is there - the remembrance and the love of those who are
We use symbolism every day of our lives -every time we
look at the calendar or write the date at the head of a letter! Today's
date - 1st August, 1955 - as we write it, we are, in symbol, paying
tribute to the memory of the Master Jesus, born, we are taught, 1,955
years ago. The pound s. d. symbols are so much second nature to most of
us, that they are almost part of the language - the $ and the "?" - the
inverted commas denoting speech - the + and the - of the figure-world -
the symbols of the phonetic alphabet the written language of music (itself
a series of symbols to represent vibrational sounds) - yes, when you take
time to consider, life today is full of symbols!
Similarly, the path of the Mason is full of symbols -
signs, tokens, words, gestures, knocks, tools, the furniture and
accoutrements of a Lodge, the clothing and adornments of a Mason - and
every symbol has a meaning!
As with the things of Matter, so with the things of
Mind, and so also with the things of our beloved Craft - most things have
a deeper meaning, but unless you dig for it, you will never find it. May I
leave with you this thought - DO NOT BE CONTENT WITH LIFE'S SYMBOLS!
Strive to get behind the allegory and the parable and the emblem - delve
into the deeper meanings - for he who is content with the symbol, can
never rise above it, and misses all the real beauty and glory of Life.
Sourced from the Dormer Masonic Study Group