Category Archives: Holy Royal Arch

Holy Royal Arch…Whence Come You? A four part article By Mike Lawrence Part Four

In the final part of this series we examine where the Holy Royal Arch may have originated.

Neville Barker Cryer, tells us that from their earliest period, Operative Masons were always divided into two groups, Straight or Square Masons and Round or Arch Masons. The reason for this was that the straight work needed less skill and therefore commanded less wages than that of the Round or Arch man whose ability to make arches, bridges and all kind of curved work commanded more skill and therefore more wages.

290-2903158_transparent-square-and-compass-png-transparent-square-and

The Square mason obviously used the square, to check the accuracy of his work, while the Arch mason was given the compasses to assist him with making curves. The colour of the Square mason was blue, whilst the Arch mason was red. And we are told these colours are clearly illustrated on the original coat of arms of the Society of the Masons granted by Edward VI.

But this does not help any further with seeking to discover where the Holy Royal Arch originated. Like England, we know that in Ireland, the moral teachings of Masonry have been in existence since at least 1507. That was the date inscribed on the square that was found in Limerick when excavating the city’s Baal Bridge, which flows over the River Shannon. Although corroded with time the inscription reads:

Baal

I will strive to live with love & care

Upon the level. By the square

In fact, we can go back even further to one of the traditional heroes of Celtic mythology, Goban Soar, the stone mason. In Irish the word Soar, denote both “Free” and “A mason”. And legend tells us that it was the Goban, that built Ireland’s famous round towers, but that’s another story.

Gobán_Saor

But in 1751, you will no doubt recall, a rival Grand Lodge was formed in London, calling itself the Grand Lodge of England according to the Old Institutions. The new Grand Lodge accused the first or Premier Grand Lodge of having introduced many innovations and claimed that they alone preserved the ancient customs and practices of Masonry. They dubbed the older body, the “Moderns” and they assumed the title of the “Antients”.

Seal_of_the_Antient_Grand_Lodge_of_England

One of the innovations the “Moderns” had introduced was the reversing of the passwords and signs of the first and second degrees so as to confuse irregular masons that tried to gain access to regular Lodges. Another innovation that offended the “Antients” was to turn their aprons upside down so as the gentlemen would not look like mechanics.

Now the Brethren that formed this rival Lodge were looked upon, for many years as traitors, schismatics and men that had not only set out to destroy the Premier Grand Lodge, but were in violation of their Masonic obligation. However, in his book Masonic Facts and Fictions, Henry Sadler was able to prove that in the main, the founders of that rival Grand Lodge were in fact Irishmen, temporarily resident in London and who had not been made welcome in English Masonic circles. Humble men, whose only wish was to practice the Pure and Antient Freemasonry in the form they had known in their native country, under their own Grand Lodge, to whom they owed their allegiance.

Seal_of_the_Moderns_Grand_Lodge

Now you might well ask what this has got to do with our subject this evening, again I refer to Harry Mendoza. The Premier Grand Lodge did not recognise the Royal Arch as part of Freemasonry, though some of their members were exalted in a separate Chapters. However, the Grand Lodge of the Antients argued that the Royal Arch was the fourth degree and could be worked in a lodge under the authority of the lodge warrant. You will notice the four principal banners are represented on their seal.

But a rather unfortunate incident occurred. In 1766, some members owing allegiance to the Premier Grand Lodge set up the first Grand Chapter and exalted as the First Principal of the Order, Lord Blayney, the then Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge. This caused problems because it was felt such an action would imply recognition of the Order, so somebody tampered with the Charter of Compact, the document setting up the Chapter, and altered the date to 1767 and put the letter P in front of the words Grand Master, implying that at the time of his exaltation Lord Blayney was a Past Grand Master and by this date they claimed he acted in a private and not an official capacity.

Charter_Compact_

In respect of the ritual used at the time, John Hamill tell us:

“Surprisingly, little is known of the early Royal Arch Ritual. Some French manuscripts said to date from the 1760s give the skeleton of a ceremony centreing on the discovery of a vault containing the Sacred Name, but the earliest English manuscript ritual dates from as late as 1780. Nor can we rely on printed exposures,  for the Royal Arch did not attract the same publicity and curiosity as the Craft and the earliest printed (Royal Arch) exposure is Richard Carlile’s of 1825.”

To return to the Irish connection, another interesting point is that many Masonic students honestly believe that the Holy Royal Arch developed and was first practiced, in Ireland. In 1743, we read in an Irish newspaper that “…the royal arch (was) carried by two excellent masons…” as part of a St John’s Day procession though the Town of Youghal, Co. Cork.

However, there is more controversy here when Fifield Dassigny’s wrote the following in his book “A serious and impartial enquiry into the cause of the present decay of Free-masonry in the Kingdom of Ireland”, published in Dublin in 1744:

…a certain propagator of a false system some few years ago in this city [Dublin] who imposed upon several very worthy men under a pretense of being Master of the Royal Arch, which he asserted he had brought with him from the city of York; and that the beauties of the Craft did principally consist in the knowledge of this valuable piece of Masonry. However he carried on this scheme for several months and many of the learned and wise were his followers, till at length his fallacious art was discovered by a Brother of probity and wisdom, who had some small space before attained that excellent part of Masonry in London and plainly proved that his doctrine was false.”

But whatever the intrigue, recognition of the Royal Arch was essential to the Union of the two Grand Lodges and this was achieved in 1818 by the somewhat ambiguous wording of the Preliminary Declaration of the Book of Constitution, which states

“…pure Antient masonry consists of three degrees and no more, namely the entered apprentice, the fellowcraft, and the master mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch…”

In conclusion, like the Craft, the origin of the Holy Royal Arch has been lost and we have no records to give it the antiquity or history we would like, but I would encourage all Master Masons to consider membership of this beautiful Order and complete the cycle of what is considered, under the English Constitution and being “Pure and antient Masonry”

<ends>

101 @Freemasonsareus  102 Freemasons Are Us

103 freemasonsareus.wordpress.com  1_V7GYJQ_4lykfDzOf9q17eA @Freemasonsareus

104 freemasonsareus@gmail.com

2 Comments

Filed under Freemasonry, Holy Royal Arch, Masonic History, Masonic Traditions

Holy Royal Arch…Whence Come You? A four part article By Mike Lawrence Part Three

The second Temple, known to us as the third or Grand and Royal Lodge, was reconstructed and stood between 516 BC and 70 AD. During this time, it was the centre of Jewish worship, which focused on the sacrifices known as the Korbanot. In Judaism, the Korban is any of a variety of sacrificial offerings described and commanded in the Totah. King Solomon’s Temple was destroyed in 586 BC when the Jews were exiled during the Babylonian captivity. Construction of a new temple was begun in 535 and completed in 516, with its dedication in 515. As described in the Book of Ezra, rebuilding of the Temple was authorised by Cyrus the Great and ratified by Darius the Great. The Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its second Temple on August 4th 70 AD, ending the Great Jewish revolt that began in 66 AD.

9

 

The story in our ritual which relates to the discovery of the vault, probably takes its rise from any number of contemporary books that were available at the time when the ritual was being formulated. For example, we already know that the many of the Craft ritual phrases and certain usages can be found in the works of Shakespeare, Bunyon, Milton, Bronte, and some of the comtemporary pracitices of the time, so it would figure that Royal Arch ritual would contain phrases, practices or other things that were common or available at the time.

Thus, we read of The Ecclesiastical History of Philostorgius, born 364 AD, translated and published in 1669 in a book entitled, “Solomon’s Temple Spiritualised.” The book records that the Roman Emperor, Julian the Apostate, ordered the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem, during the course of which a cave was discovered by a workman who was lowered by rope into the vault. He discovered a perfect square and, in its centre, a column upon which was found a book wrapped in fine linen cloth. The first words being “In the beginning was the word” The book was the entire Gospel of St John. This verse incidentally played a very important part in the early Holy Royal Arch ceremony but was dropped during the 1835 ritual revision.

10

 

QCCC member Harry Mendoza, also tells us that references to the discovery of a law-book during repair work that was being carried out on the Temple can be found in 2 Kings, Chapter 22 and 2 Chronicles, Chapter 34. This book mentioned, many commentators identify as Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Bible, and which both record Hilkiah the priest finding the book of the law that the Lord had given Moses.

Robert McCoy’s “A Dictionary of Freemasonry”, a late 19th century publication also records the early finding of a vault in the ruins at Yucatan, where the explorer recorded the following: “The only way of descending was to tie a rope around the body and be lowered by the Indians…”

Therfore, as you can see, it is not beyond the realms of anyone’s imagination to understand where the allegorical story originated.

But this idea of taking an existing story to accentuate salient points of our discipline or to highlight its meaning should in no way detract from the important message of the Holy Royal Arch. It all degrees in Freemasonry, traditional histories were written for that very purpose and have little or no historical accuracy and it still pains me to this day when exponents of our ritual sincerely and honestly believe that all Masonry is based on historical fact.

This I think is an indictment on our society and clear evidence of our failure to educate our people by allowing them to continue to serve in ignorance rather than provide proficient instructors and accurately presented resources. Strong words I know, but I stand by my view.

11

 

So, having now established some of the basic facts about the Holy Royal Arch, i.e. where we are and what we are doing, perhaps a simplified recap will put things into a better perspective. So here are ten questions:

1) Where are we?

2) Where did we come from?

3) Who allowed us to come back to Jerusalem?

4) Who are we?

5) Who sits at the head of the Sanhedrin?

6) Who are they assisted by?

7) What did Cyrus give us permission to do?

8) What did we do to help the reconstruction?

9) What did they discover?

10) What was the reward for the industry and fidelity of the workmen?

Answers:

1) In Jerusalem!

2) Babylon, the captivity now being over!

3) Cyrus, the King of Persia!

4) The Grand Sanhedrin!

5) Zerubbabel, Haggai and Joshua!

6) Ezra and Nehemiah!

7) To rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem

8) We hired three workmen to clear the ground in order to receive the foundations. They made a discovery of great importance which they immediately conveyed back to us.

9) The name of the True and Living God Most High! Which was lost through the untimely death of Hiram Abiff.

10) They were made members of the Grand Sanhedrin!

We complete the story of the Holy Royal Arch in the next and final part of the Article.

 

101 @Freemasonsareus   102 Freemasons Are Us

103 freemasonsareus.wordpress.com   1_V7GYJQ_4lykfDzOf9q17eA @Freemasonsareus

104 freemasonsareus@gmail.com

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Freemasonry, Holy Royal Arch, Masonic History, Masonic Ritual

Holy Royal Arch…Whence Come You? A four part article by Mike Lawrence Part Two

In part two, we take a brief look at the main characters of our drama.

Zerubbabel, was the grandson of Jehoiachin, penultimate King of  Judah. He led the first band of Jews, numbering 42,360, who returned from the Babylonian captivity in the first year of Cyrus, King of Persia. It was also Zerubbabel that laid the foundation of the second Temple in Jerusalem the next year. Muslim historian, Ya’qubi attributed the recovery of the Torah and the Books of the Prophets to him instead of Ezra. Little else is known about him.

6

Haggai, was one of the twelve minor prophets and the author of the Book of Haggai. He was the first of three prophets (with Zechariah, his contemporary, and Malachi, who lived about one hundred years later). His ministry belonged to the period of Jewish history which began after the return from captivity in Babylon. We are told that when the work of rebuilding the temple had been put to a stop through the intrigues of the Samaritaina and having been suspended for eighteen years, the work was resumed through the efforts of Haggai and Zechariah who exhorted the people, which roused them from their lethargy.

 Joshua, the son of Josedech and the first High Priest of the second Temple, should not be confused with that other Joshua who succeeded Moses as the leader of the Israelites and who we will all remember from the second degree, prayed fervently to the Lord to continue the light of day. Sadly, I can find no further details other than our own allegorical association with Zerubbabel and Haggai.

5

 

Ezra, the “scribe” led the second body of exiles that returned from Babylon to Jerusalem and was author of the book of Scripture which bears his name. He was the son, or perhaps grandson, of Seraiah. All we know of his personal history is contained in the last four chapters of his book. We also learn that in the seventh year of the reign of  he obtained leave to go up to Jerusalem and to take with him a company of Israelites. The King manifested great interest in Ezra’s undertaking, granting him “all his request” and loading him with gifts for the house of God, being the Second Temple, whose construction had now commenced. Again we must not confuse Scribe Ezra with, the priest of the same name that returned with those to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel.

 Nehemiah, the son of Hachaliah was probably of the tribe of Judah and was one of the “Jews of the dispersion”. In his youth he was appointed to the important office of royal cup-bearer at the palace of Shushan. Like Ezra, the King Artaxerxes Longimanus, seemed to have been on terms of friendly familiarity with him, for after Nehemiah had heard of the mournful and desolate condition of the Holy City, he was filled with sadness of heart. At length, we learn the King observed his sadness of countenance and asked the reason. Nehemiah explained it all to the King and obtained his permission to go up to Jerusalem and there to act as Governor of Judea. He went up in the spring of 446 BC (eleven years after Ezra), with a strong escort supplied by the King. On his arrival he set himself to survey the city, and to form a plan for its restoration; a plan which he carried out with great skill and energy, so that it was completed in about six months. We are told that he resembled Ezra in his fiery zeal, in his active spirit of enterprise, and in the piety of his life, but he was of a fiercer mood and he had less patience with transgressors. He was a man of action rather than a man of thought, and more inclined to use force than persuasion.

The three Sojourners are representative of the workmen needed to rebuild the second Temple and humbly wished to participate in the great and glorious undertaking. They were nobly born of the House of Judah, but due to the lateness of their application they were tasked to prepare the ground for the foundations which they cheerfully accepted.

7

Those are the characters or main players in our ritual drama and it were they that formed part of the Grand Sanhedrin, which as I previously explained is what the lodge room represents during the Exaltation ceremony of the Holy Royal Arch, and we, as Companions of that Order, are also part of that ruling council.

The Great Sanhedrin, which is what the Convocation is representative of, was an assembly of Jewish judges who constituted the Supreme Court and legislative body of ancient Israel. In total there were 71 Sanhedrin members. During the period of the second Temple in Jerusalem, prior to its destruction in 70 AD, the Great Sanhedrin would meet in the Hall of Hewn Stones in the Temple during the day, except before festivals and Shabbat.

8

 

Now the objective of the ritual authors was to restore to Freemasonry the true secrets of a Master Mason, lost as we know, by the allegorical death of one of the brightest characters in Masonry, Hiram Abiff. In order to repair that loss, another allegorical story was prepared, its origin we will discuss a little later, but the vehicle for such a message was the building of the second Temple in Jerusalem.

In part three we look at the where the theme of the ritual may have taken its rise and recap with some simple questions and answers.

101 @Freemasonsareus  102 Freemasons Are Us

103 freemasonsareus.wordpress.com  1_V7GYJQ_4lykfDzOf9q17eA @Freemasonsareus

104  freemasonsareus@gmail.com

 

2 Comments

Filed under Freemasonry, Holy Royal Arch, Masonic History, Masonic Traditions

Holy Royal Arch…Whence Come You? A four part article by Mike Lawrence Part One

Being a basic down to earth explanation of the Holy Royal Arch set up – where we are, what we are doing and who are the characters we are representing, plus a revealing  insight in to how, but for the tenacity of a few Irish Freemasons, the Holy Royal Arch may have been lost forever.

1

On the night of our raising to the sublime degree of a Master Mason, we are immediately instructed that we must wait a full 28 days before we are eligible to join the Holy Royal Arch in order to receive the completion of that degree, which according to our regulations, concludes all aspects of what is considered “Pure Antient Masonry”.

Of course, we all understand that technically under the English Constitution all other degrees are not considered “Pure Antient Masonry” and therefore not duly part our Masonic system. However, my subject today is not other Degrees or as many brethren wrongly call them “higher degrees”, but rather that ceremony that firstly, no way resembles Freemasonry’s three-degree system, secondly, is not essential for one’s progression in the Craft or thirdly, is not actually called a degree, yet it is deemed the completion of one’s Masonic journey.

That subject is of course the Holy Royal Arch.

Pitching a lecture at a level of understanding to suit everyone’s intellect is impossible, if only from the point of view that we all came into the Chapter at different times, have held different Offices and are at different levels of understanding. Therefore, I shall start at the lowest common denominator and work from there. If that offends any Companion, then I apologise, however, it is and always has been my belief that the messages to be learnt from our ritual are simple, and in my many years of lecturing, I have avoided deep intellectual and complicated topics, leaving that to one’s own personal study plan.

So, for the moment, please forget the Historical, Mystical and Symbolical lectures, forget what’s emblematical, reverential and fiducial and let’s get right down to basics.

2

To begin with, let us look at the Drama of the ritual, which is set in Jerusalem, immediately after the return from the Babylonian captivity, when Zerubbabel is preparing to rebuild the city and the Temple. The Chapter represents the Grand Sanhedrin whose deliberations are interrupted by the arrival of three Sojourners from Babylon who ask to be permitted to assist in the rebuilding work. They are instructed to clear the ground of Solomon’s former Temple in order to receive the foundations for the new Temple. In doing so they discover a hidden vault, which they break open and enter, inside the Principle Sojourner discovers a scroll, which is the lost volume of the sacred law and a pedestal on which is inscribed the name of the Most High, which as biblical history tells us, was never uttered and therefore its true pronunciation was lost. Additionally, we find the names of the three Grand Masters. They immediately report their discoveries to the Sanhedrim and are instantly rewarded by being constituted members of the Chapter.

However, like the Craft, the story is purely allegorical, as historically; the three Principals and Scribes could not have been in Jerusalem at the same time. Interestingly in Ireland and many Grand Chapters in America, the legend is not that used in England and Scotland, but is concerned with the repair of Solomon’s Temple under Josiah, but the intent of the ritual is the same, which is to lead the companion, without transgressing the bounds of religion, to contemplate the nature of, and his relationship with, his God whatever his religion may be.

Looking closer at the ritualistic theme we know that in the Craft, the Lodge Room and Officers are representative of the Operative Masons of old and the ritual deals with the legendary building of the first Temple at Jerusalem and the imparting of a series of instructions which culminates with the workman receiving a series of signs, tokens and words, which he is given as a reward for his industry and as a test of his fidelity. Although only using substituted secrets in the third degree, the Craft rituals sit comfortably as being complete.

3

 

The role of the Holy Royal Arch is to repair that loss and so complete the legend and the setting of the drama, concerns the building of the second Temple after the return from the Babylonian captivity.

4

 

The Babylonian Captivity or Babylonian exile, is the name typically given to the deportation and exile of the Jews from the ancient Kingdon of Judah to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar during the 6th Century BC. This event coincided with the destruction of the first Temple of Jerusalem.

After the overthrow of Babylon by the Persian Empire in 537 BC, the Persian ruler, Cyrus the Great, gave the Jews permission to return to their native land, and more than 40,000 are said to have availed themselves of the privilege, as noted in the Biblical accounts of Jehoiakim, Ezra and Nehemiah. Unlike the Babylonians or Assyrians, the Persians had a different political philosophy of managing conquered territories and under their rule they allowed local personages to be put into power to govern the local populace.

The actual return of the first forty thousand exiles was led by Zerubbabel followed by a second group of about six thousand organised by Ezra. This second body of exiles had been invested with royal powers and succeeded after great difficulties in helping to establish the post-exilic Jewish community.

In part two, we will take a brief look at the main characters of our drama.

 101  @Freemasonsareus   102 Freemasons Are Us

103 freemasonsareus.wordpress.com   1_V7GYJQ_4lykfDzOf9q17eA @Freemasonsareus

104 freemasonsareus@gmail.com

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Freemasonry, Holy Royal Arch

I Greet You Well! By Mike LAWRENCE

Cover Pic

All profits go direct to the TLC Appeal http://tlcappeal.org/

£14.99 from http://www.lewismasonic.co.uk/i-greet-you-well-.htm

 This book contains twelve easy to read lectures packed with all manner of Masonic facts and information. Read at home to establish a good Masonic knowledge base or present to the Lodge on nights when you are without a candidate. Time tested and performed many times by the author, these thought provoking, fascinating talks will definitely incite discussion as they explore many of our more popular subjects by explaining the origin of some of our traditions and exploding the myths and legends of others.

With over 60 illustrations and ranging from 20 to 25 minutes in duration, the lectures were primarily designed to suit Freemasons of all levels of understanding and rank.

With titles including: Stealing History – Surviving History – Those Twenty Nine Words – English Accepted Masonry versus Scottish Non-Operative Masonry and Why the Knights Templar were not the Founders or the Custodians of the Secrets of Freemasonry; there is something for everyone.

 

£14.99 from http://www.lewismasonic.co.uk/i-greet-you-well-.htm

 

All profits go direct to the TLC Appeal http://tlcappeal.org/

Leave a comment

Filed under Candlesticks, Cathedral Builders, Columns, Festive Board, Freemasonry, Globes, Gothic Constitutions, Harry Carr, Higher Degrees, Holy Royal Arch, Honours System, Masonic, Masonic History, Masonic Ritual, Masonic Traditions, Old Charges, Prestonian Lectures, Side Degrees, Tabernacle, Two Pillars, Wallace McLeod

The Altar of Incense by Mike Lawrence

Within the Tabernacle, there were six main objects. The Ark of the Covenant was placed in the Holy of  Holies and shielded by a veil. In the next chamber was the Altar of Incense, the Menorah, the seven branched lamp stand and the Table of Shewbread. The Altar of Burnt Offerings and the Brazen Laver for ritual washing, were situated in the outer courtyard.

jesus-in-the-tabernacle-10-638 (3)

Here we look at the Altar or Golden Altar of Incense. The biblical description can be found in Exodus 30.

1 Moreover, you shall make an altar as a place for burning incense; you shall make it of acacia wood. 

2 Its length shall be a cubit, and its width a cubit, it shall be square, and its height shall be two cubits; its horns shall be of one piece with it. 

3 You shall overlay it with pure gold, its top and its sides all around, and its horns; and you shall make a gold molding all around for it. 

4 You shall make two gold rings for it under its molding; you shall make them on its two side walls—on opposite sides—and they shall be holders for poles with which to carry it. 

5 You shall make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 

6 You shall put this altar in front of the veil that is near the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is over the ark of the testimony, where I will meet with you. 

7 Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it; he shall burn it every morning when he trims the lamps. 

8 When Aaron trims the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense. There shall be perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations. 

God commanded that incense be burnt on the golden altar every morning and evening  to be left burning continually throughout the day and night as a pleasing aroma to the Lord. The incense was made of an equal part of four precious spices stacte, onycha, galbanum and frankincense and was considered holy.

Exodus 30

34 And the LORD said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight:”

Golden-Altar-of-Incense (2)

Below is an article by Ex Comp. T M Greensill which gives a more concise explanation and deeper insight into the Altar.

The provenance of the altar of incense used in our present Chapters is undoubted: it is defined in Exodus 30: 1-2:

1) And thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon: of shittim wood shalt thou make it.

2) A cubit shall be the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof; foursquare shall it be: and two cubits shall be the height thereof: the horns thereof shall be of the same.

This was the first altar of incense erected by Moses in the wilderness of Sinai – a double cube.

The Bible contains several other references to altars of incense; some two hundred years later, in II Chronicles 26:16, where Uzziah went into the Temple and himself burnt incense upon it:

16) But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the LORD his God, and went into the temple of the LORD to burn incense upon the altar of incense.

Such an act was considered unseemly, even for a king, as it was the traditional preserve of the priestly caste to perform this sacred duty. Uzziah’s subsequent leprosy was directly attributed to his act of profanity.

Uzziah’s successor, Ahaz, became a heretic and burnt incense to the Assyrian gods, thus defiling both the altar and the Temple. Such blasphemy was only atoned by his successor, King Hezekiah , cleansing the Temple and causing the altars of incense to be cast into the brook of Kidron.

In ancient times the altar of incense was within the Holy of Holies, the Tabernacle, probably being placed to the west of the Ark of the Covenant. As I am sure you are aware, the incense was symbolic, not only of paying homage to the deity, but also that the rising of the perfume in the air symbolized the passage of the prayers of the faithful, through the ether, even to the very presence of God himself.

The incense itself, being made from the resin exuded from the trunk of the pine and cedar, was believed to save the faithful from corruption and to provide a substitute for burnt offerings; the latter being burnt on altars situated outside the Temple.

The altar of Moses was of shittim wood, nowadays considered to be acacia wood, and completely covered with gold. This altar travelled with the Children of Israel during their wanderings in the desert.

The altar of incense in King Solomon’s Temple was of a heavier wood, cedar, and was also overlaid with gold, but the altar found by the Sojourners was of white marble and described in the Mystical Lecture as, “…in the form of an altar of incense…”

The significant difference in the materials used underlines the great transition from the rigors of the wilderness of Sinai to the opulence of Solomon’s Temple.

The position of the altar in our present chapters is probably not the same as in the Operative and early Speculative Lodges of the 18th century. There are indications that in those days the altar was in the center of the squared pavement and we still have evidence of the use of the Craft squared pavement as it is perpetuated in the present Supreme Grand Chapter certificate. The reason for the change in position may well be associated with the adoption of the Chapter floor cloth which gives a perspective view of the floor as it would have been seen by the Sojourner when looking down into the vault.

The doubled cube of our present altar, whilst of great masonic significance, seems to have had little symbolism in Biblical terms although the Sanctum Sanctorum was specifically built in the form of a cube, the perfect figure in solid geometry, which has many symbolic connotations. In one version of the address for the presentation of the Supreme Grand Chapter certificate we find traces of the inner symbolism of the doubled cube in the following words:

“From earliest times the doubled cube was a venerated symbol representing immensity of space, extending from the base of the earth, represented by the bottom square of the doubled cube, even to the very zenith of the heavens, represented by the top square.”

The symbolism of the doubled cube can be taken a stage further. The bottom cube representing the rough-hewn ashlar of the Entered Apprentice, being in itself symbolic of worldly man, still uncouth in the spiritual ideals of Freemasonry, being engrossed in the material aspects of living and still expecting material benefits from his labours. The upper cube represents the polishing which has been achieved by obedience to the moral code of the Order and its perfect shape to the minimizing of his ego by bending to the will of the Great Architect of the Universe. The beginning of man’s spiritual journey is symbolized in the upper cube when he becomes aware of the first groping’s towards the non-material, represented by the heavens-the unknown.

On the top of the altar found in the vault was a “plate of gold’”. I submit that this phrase was not meant in its present connotation – that of a flat dish, but rather that it was ‘plated’ with gold. It is probable that whilst the previous altars of incense were overlaid with gold to give them the necessary dignity and safety, that the altar found in the vault being of white marble did not need such embellishment, except the top.

The characters and words on the top of the altar are explained in some to the most beautiful phraseology found in Freemasonry and much has been written on their significance. Let me therefore confine myself to the geometrical figures.

Although some of the symbolism of the circle and triangle is found in the Mystical Lecture, I suggest that their meanings go far deeper in ancient symbolism; a field which was undoubtedly known and explored by many of the early Speculative masons who had so much influence on the fashioning of the ceremony so that it was ultimately to blossom into the brilliance which we now know.

The circle symbolizes the ‘flux of creation’, of God manifest in creation and also the eternal movement of a non-static universe. It not only represents eternity but also Cyclic time, the time of the Universe, where time is no longer measured in our mortal, linear time-scale which must necessarily have a beginning and an end. In Cyclic time the end is the beginning and there is timelessness. Our mortal linear time shackles man, who must obey it, yet it is only relative to our mortal lives. Cyclic time as not relative to earth and is self-perpetuating.

To the Chinese, the circle represents the heavens which, in some respects, the ancients considered the unknown, the incomprehensible. In most Eastern religions the circle symbolizes Enlightenment, that ultimate state when mere man appreciates the Unknowable.

The triangle represents the number ‘3’, the mystic number, and its symbolism goes back to the Egyptians and possibly beyond. The Triad to which the Craft mason was introduced through the ‘Three Great Lights’ and many other series of ‘threes’ is, in the Royal Arch, elevated to a far greater height where it becomes the core of the ceremony and ultimately the repository of the second Word. In nearly all of the ancient religions the Triad was revered in some form: as Heaven, Man and Earth; as Osiris, Isis and Horus by the Egyptians and as the Three Aspects of the Deity in many others. The equilateral triangle is the accepted symbol of completion.

Although the combination of the square, circle and triangle is mentioned in the Mystical Lecture there is, of necessity, only a short explanation of what must have been one of the most powerful combinations of symbols known to the ancient world. The important symbolism of the square is not even mentioned. This omission can scarcely be attributed to an aversion by our early companions to the square as the Craft squared pavement was used by them and, in fact, is still found in use in many old chapters. It seems quite possible that the ensigns were set around the four sides of the pavement. Was this omission of an explanation of this powerful combination of symbols caused by some feeling that the inner meaning should be made known only to the elite? Certainly, this combination was known to Elias Ashmole and his friends who were privy to the work of contemporary alchemists.

These early alchemists were not, as popular tradition has it, mere chemists attempting to change base metals into gold; many were erudite men, philosophers and mystics who were trying to find the answer to life’s ‘Great Riddle’. The search for the Philosopher’s Stone, the Rebis – from the Latin res bina, meaning dual or double matter, it is the end product of the alchemical magnum opus or great work, was the quest for regaining the Mystical Centre where the ‘Two would become One’ in the Hermetic Androgyne. To such men the square, circle and triangle was the complete symbol and as such was given by the great 17th century alchemist, Michael Maier, a great friend of Ashmole, who expressed it so cryptically in his Scrutinium Chymicum:

“Make a circle out of a man and a women, From which a quadrangular figure arises with equal sides, Divide from it a triangle, which is in contact with all sides of a round sphere, Then the Stone shall come into existence, If such a thing is not immediately clear to your mind, Then learn that you will understand everything, if you understand the theory of Geometry.”

If we take this combination of the square, circle and triangle and consider them in masonic terms, then, with the exception of the words, they represent the ultimate symbolism of the ceremony and I submit might be expressed thus: The square symbolises Earth, God manifest in creation; its straight lines depicting Man, the only living thing which acts in the Linear, indicating that Man is bound by Linear time. Yet the unique spirituality of Man enables him to look to the Unknown-the Heavens, symbolised by the circle. The circle represents Cyclic time where and ending (death) is a beginning (birth). Beyond the circle, and mystically far beyond it, is the equilateral triangle, the symbol of completion – the completion we all seek, when we become one with the Great All.

2 Comments

Filed under Holy Royal Arch, Tabernacle