Symbols and Symbolism in FreeMasonry

Question: Masonry is inherently a system of symbols. Could you please say something about the significance of studying symbols and why it is important to penetrate deeper into the world of meaning that is veiled by symbols in general and of the symbols of Masonry in particular?

Ha! What a loaded question and a hard one to do justice to in just a few words.

Symbols and Developing the Intuition

What is the significance of studying symbols? Well, for the major part it helps to develop the intuition, which must eventually supersede the mind in our spiritual development as human beings. Developing the intuition elevates one’s perception beyond merely mind analysis to that of direct perception or knowledge and to synthesising wholes instead of parts and the knowledge-gathering tendencies of lower manas.

How so? The study of symbols initially engages three modes. First there is the concrete analysis, which requires an analysis of the physical properties of the symbol; that is, for instance, and as it pertains to the numeric and geometric observation, an analysis of the physical properties of a symbol, its lines, how many, its geometric formations, what type and how many, its colours and contours, etc.

Having ascertained these and duly noted them and made notes about them, one then moves on to the next stage, which requires a speculative analysis of the meaning of these properties, that is, the stage in which one inquires of oneself (in the light of one’s understanding) what is the symbol trying to teach? For this type of analysis one is better equipped with a prior knowledge of the meaning of numbers, geometry, colours, contours, angles, etc. For instance, the soul, which is immortal, has an arithmetical, as the body has a geometrical beginning. This beginning is self-moving, that is, the arithmetical aspect pertains to the nature of the emanation of the spiritual being (as it pertains to the doctrine of emanations), i.e., one becomes two, becomes three, becomes four, becomes five, etc., (the many and the One), and from that center diffuses itself over the body of the whole microcosm. The geometric form gives the clue to the nature and purpose of the indwelling life. Number gives a clue to the purpose of the life which the form veils.

The first part of symbol analysis pertains to an observation of the physical properties of a symbol; it is the concrete analysis, which reveals the nature of the world of appearances. The second part of the analysis pertains to the world of meaning; this is the conceptual analysis and pertains to what the symbol is trying to teach. Therefore, one has to have somewhat of a prior knowledge as to the meaning of numbers, lines, angles, contours, colours, etc., and their esoteric correspondences, for the deeper truths are revealed through an understanding of the relationships between the macrocosmic whole and the microcosmic part, and virtually all we have here to help us work our way out of this maze is the law of correspondences.

This law of correspondences ever pertains to number and its esoteric significance and the numbers never break down as they are interrelated and relative up and down the scale of being.

The triple divisions always pertain to the world of the spirit and the soul, and on a much higher turn of the spiral, to the mysteries concealed in the Central Spiritual Sun. Within our sphere this triple division pertains to the significances of the spiritual aspects as they are intrinsic to the spiritual being or soul, and as they pertain to the essential spiritual triangle of the constitution of this spiritual being in its triple division of atma-buddhi-manas.

Septenary divisions pertain to the manifested world of phenomena, the soul or spirit in incarnation, for all phenomena in the world can be reduced or summarised through essential divisions of seven in terms of its psychological (or psychic) properties. The triple spiritual fire always breaks forth—as it impacts the world of phenomena— first through a triple division of light in its primary “colours” and then through the septenary division, as light is illustrated and as it is refracted through a prism. “Colour” means “to veil,” i.e., it veils light.

Thus it is that the consciousness of the initiate is ever simpler than that of conventional beings because the “math” or “arithmetic consciousness” of the initiate—which is the basic form of logic—is ever simpler than the complicated multiplicity of the mathematical divisions of conventional consciousnesses.

The third mode of studying symbols is through direct perception, which pertains to the immediate impact and registration of contacted energies upon the subtle constitution via the energy centers (chakras) of all the foregoing, thus revealing a world of significances or being to the illumined perception and sensitivity of the intuition. This third mode is the esoteric analysis and reveals the nature of the energies animating or pouring through the symbol. In this mode, registration, comprehension and analysis are all simultaneous through an immediate synthesis of understanding and registration.

But what is written in the foregoing is all about techniques.

The Esoteric Study of Symbols

Esoterically speaking, all appearances of life in form are but symbols of something spiritual or life-giving that precipitated them into manifested being. It must be realised that all manifested appearances are esoterically symbols veiling a life, and the quality and psychic type of energy which precipitated them into being. The observations of the forms of what we call “life” and their animated existences are but symbols veiling an essential life that vitalises them and appears through them, but which persists apart from them. We must remember, however, that when we talk and think in symbols, we are placing something between ourselves and reality—something protective, interpretive and significant, but something nevertheless veiling and hiding.

A symbol therefore first veils and then reveals the truth of an “idea”—truth being a relative thing. It is to the truth of this idea that our attention is directed in order to understand life. Light is but a symptom of life, and light and life can be said to be synonymous terms, but life itself remains the great mystery. A symbol is an outer and visible sign of an inner, spiritual reality. As the mind develops and becomes more sentient it slowly begins to merge and blend in its identification with the greater Whole. As the point of spiritual tension is developed and holds or grips the consciousness we begin to view the world of phenomena from the inside-out, and thus—perception being interdependent with existence, or the way that one exists—our view shifts from one of being modified by phenomena to that of observation through an illumined inner revealing consciousness. The searchlight of the mind casts its beam upon the realm of phenomena and it is then seen to be a kaleidoscope of living symbols, outwardly veiling but inwardly revealing the Book of Life, the spiritual realities veiled by the outer symbols. One thereby gradually learns to develop this unifying consciousness underlying the relationships between parts with parts, parts with wholes, and then the synthesising consciousness of parts on several levels simultaneously within wholes.

The initial level of studying symbols reveals a world of meaning through a conceptual understanding and inquiry, which basically means, being able to view life and living in terms of a stream of revealing symbols and what, therefore, the various experiences or observations are trying to teach. This must all be measured against one’s basic objectives, purposes and motivations, and so if the motivation is one of altruism and spiritual pursuit, then what the symbol is trying to teach is held up to or measured against those objectives and the relative value of that which is revealed by means of the symbol will be dependent upon the nature of the revealing consciousness as it pertains to what one seeks to know.

Masonry and Symbols

Every organised form is the outer and visible form of an inner subjective and spiritual reality. Masonry itself is a symbol. It is the Lodge on High which is the motivating impulse and thing symbolised behind this ancient symbolic institution. A Masonic Lodge is a symbolic replica in miniature of this divine Lodge, the Temple of the Lord, eternal in the heavens. A Masonic Lodge is an earthly symbol of a heavenly archetype. To repeat from previous sections: a Masonic Lodge holds in its symbolism the ritual of Deity and the way of salvation is pictorially preserved in its work. The methods of Deity are demonstrated in its Temple workings, and under the All-Seeing Eye the work goes forward. In the comprehension of its symbolism will come the power to cooperate with the divine plan. It is a symbol of an unseen condition which can be penetrated into, known, and cooperated with, but for which one must work.

The pattern of truth that underlies the outer forms of Masonry incurs two major lines of thought:

  1. The unfoldment of the Plan of Deity, revealed through the symbolism of the degrees of the Lodge work.
  2. The unfoldment of the individual as he progresses from degree to degree, mastering step by step the work of the Craft until he finally takes his place as a risen Master.

Thus, the rituals essentially dramatise the evolution of the Christ-consciousness (the consciousness of the soul) as it emerges through the medium of the form and gradually gains supervision and control over it with the objective of manifesting divinity upon the physical plane.

It is also this second point which is of interest to many and which has incurred much speculation because the rites, ceremonies and initiations of Masonry may be regarded as being faint representations and symbolic rehearsals of those major spiritual initiations through which every human being must eventually pass on his way from darkness to light, from the unreal to the Real, and from death to Immortality, before finally achieving his goal of that of risen Master, manifesting divinity.

Thus it is that the entirety of Masonic symbolism considered as a whole and in its interrelated parts and wholes, contextually understood, adds up to a greater sum of revealing light to the understanding of the illumined, inquiring and unbiased mind of the Mason who is truly advancing upon his steps towards the place of light with a genuine inquiry pertaining to the Masonic quest for light and spiritual understanding. Therefore, little will be achieved in this regard by isolating little bits and pieces of Masonic symbolism and separating them all in his consciousness.

However, Masonry is a living teaching that one actually participates in and experiences, first as a candidate and then as an officiating participant in the ceremonial rites and dramas.  Thus, the symbols and meanings of the Masonic rites actually come alive in his consciousness, not only as a recipient of those rites initially as a candidate and then as an officiating participant, but also as he seeks to represent as a living symbol that which he may have learned of those beautiful and ethical injunctions through his experiencing participation. Thus it has been well said that the true Mason is always an asset to his community.

Along with all the subsequent group training that he participates in and receives, the whole mode of learning is lifted beyond the mode of mere academia and theory, and the Mason comes to understand that Professor Experience is indeed the great Teacher.