Symbolism and Speculative Freemasonry – synopsis
Daily Masonic Advancement Talk on ‘Symbolism and Speculative Freemasonry’ by W Bro. Alastair Scales.
Freemasonry is described in the First Degree ceremony as “a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” This recognises that symbolism contained within the allegorical framework of our ceremonies lies at the very heart of the delivery of our masonic learning.
Joseph Fort Newton, in his book “The Builders”, notes that” it is the soul of symbolism that every emblem expresses a reality too great for words.” Thus he recognises that to deliver the full power of the messages and underlying meaning of our ceremonies, it is necessary to harness the power of symbols.
The development of modern speculative freemasonry from its operative stonemason’s origins provides a wealth of symbols which are manifest throughout our lodge rooms and ceremonies.
A prime example of the use of symbolism within an allegorical framework is contained in our 3rd Degree Ceremony of Raising. Here the principal character, Hiram Abif’s unshaken fidelity to the sacred trust reposed in him, is a symbolic expression of the merits of remaining true to that which you have promised to do.
The three Craft Degrees are symbolic in that they can be regarded as representing the course of human existence. Thus the First degree concerns a mason’s birth and awakening to knowledge and experience of life. The Second Degree concerns a mason’s emerging maturity and the application of knowledge and experience of life to the hidden mysteries of nature and science. In addition to emphasising the importance of remaining true to one’s promises and commitments, the Third Degree is concerned with the triumph of good over evil and training the spirit to overcome death.
By encapsulating these messages in the form of allegories or stories, brethren’s attention and interest is held and we are encouraged to study and learn for ourselves and seek a deeper meaning or masonic enlightenment. This enlightenment remains as a cherished and lasting possession which amply repays the effort involved.
W L Wilmshurst suggests that a Masonic lodge is itself a symbol of the soul within, and that in our lodge meetings, a group consciousness of the spiritual aspects of our work results from our common effort to understand our Masonic art.
Our three Tracing Boards are packed with Masonic symbolism, the study of which leads to a deeper understanding of the meaning of our Ceremonies. E.g. An Ear of Corn near to a Fall of Water: The word shibboleth, referred to in our Second Degree Ceremony, denotes plenty and is depicted by an ear of corn near to a fall of water. The systematic farming of corn, assisted by well irrigated soil in Egypt, produced an economic surplus which enabled some men to free themselves from the toil of subsistence farming to develop new infrastructure and enjoy a higher level of physical and spiritual existence. This emphasises the fact that the benefits of education and the ability to consider the spiritual aspects of life, relies on the efforts of others, and should not be taken for granted.
References: “Turning the Hiram Key” by Robert Lomas“
“Veiled in Allegory and Illustrated by Symbols”; a paper by Bro. Ray Hollins
Click here to read the full paper: Symbolism and Speculative Freemasonry by W Bro. Alastair Scales, November 2012