On joining Freemasonry the candidate is full of anticipation and eager to acquaint himself well in this new realm of allegory. He is variously admonished to make improvements in his knowledge and he has an expectation that his curiosity will be satisfied by answers given by the more expert Brethren. But, many times I have heard disappointed members remark that there seems to be nothing else to do but initiation, passing and raising.
To many the acquisition of skill and proficiency in working the Rituals is a sufficient and satisfying answer and without this necessary part of our training most of the beauty and significance of the Ritual would be lost. However, there comes a time when the thinking man likes to get a satisfying answer to questions raised in his mind by the Ritual, where significant phrases seem to have only partial explanations. This lack in turn gives way to deeper problems, many of a philosophical, or a historical nature and rather than emulate, it is often more satisfying to seek, but one comes up against a paucity of information and may become disheartened in the search.
Masonic Ritual has an esoteric significance which is often not stressed, but which provides a very satisfying quest for those prepared to trace the path backwards. Careful study of the Ritual reveals that it is a fabric woven of materials taken from many places and times.
Candidates are exhorted to be patient but even Job, during his repeated trials and approbations, called out “where shall Wisdom be found and where is the place of understanding?” Many will be surprised to learn that his question was answered by “Under an apple tree, by pure meditation, on a Friday evening, in the season of apples when the moon is full,” but this information would not be spoken to him, but transmitted by signs and tokens given to him during the greeting and whilst his Comforters sat by him.
Freemasons too have signs and tokens which transmit information and they are constantly reminded that ‘Silence is golden’ and the words are only lettered. If both conditions are to be met then there is a problem. How are worthy brethren to be instructed? It cannot be written, nor delineated, etc, so in this blog I have set out to try to find out.
What follows is the result of many false starts and is not given as true, in the sense that every item can be supported by irrefutable evidence, but it is a good story and may prove interesting as a source of discussion.
I believe that the Ritual is soundly based on historical facts rather than myth and that a lot of it was universally known throughout Europe, during the Operative days when speculative monks were given refuge and asylum from their persecutors within the Lodge of the Free Masons, and in return, they transmitted esoteric knowledge, as well as practical knowledge, of Math’s and Geometry, to the Operative Brethren.
The ritual performance of an act ensures that strict obedience be paid to those items, actions and words, proven most efficacious in securing a desired effect. Analysis seeks to eliminate all items of ritual which cannot be repeatedly proven to be effective and this gives rise to the split between Religion and Science.
Similarly, Grammar has laid down strict rules and criteria for establishing the truth of written and spoken words, or phrases, thereby ensuring that the orderly sequence of words, made up in an orderly sequence of letters forming those words, will accurately transmit the thoughts of the writer to the reader of the text.
Thus writing follows an established ritual known only to those knowledgeable of the rules, written secrets are revealed to all who can read. But in the days when reading and writing was limited to a few, these few were very powerful.
True ritual adds an esoteric extension to mundane acts and becomes revealing only to those in possession of the esoteric significance of the act. Certain well known phrases are called “self involving expressions” and can be typified by “I name this ship,” etc, at which a bottle of wine is smashed against the bows and the ship is launched into the water.
After this act the ship can be registered, insured, paid for, etc, BUT behind it all is the age old esoteric ritual. The “I” who names the ship is usually an important person. The Name is significant, not just any old name. And the breaking of the bottle spills the wine onto the ship. A chosen person has poured out a libation to Poseidon, in the hope that a gift of the fruit of the earth will make this constructed thing, acceptable in the Kingdom of the sea. An acceptance of human frailty in the face of the power of the Sea Gods, who had to be propitiated, for this intrusion into their realm.
When knowledge gives power to the recipient, the greatest care must be exercised and the earliest societies of men, such as the Pythagoreans, separated themselves from the crowd, just as later Christian Monks did in Europe.
The Celtic and Nordic Bards were given high regard by the Kings and Chieftains and were accorded the seat at the Kings right hand. Thus, the Bard was to the King what the Prophet was to Israel and Hiram Abiff to Solomon and the King of Tyre; men of great knowledge and wisdom, skilled in the accumulated science, history, traditions and rituals of the tribe, possessing secrets of men and nature.
These Bards were sacrosanct and often acted as messengers, or heralds, between tribes. They were also teachers and Law givers, as well as Tribal Priests. History tells us that they “spoke in riddles”.
The Bible records that in the Temple at Jerusalem, the High Priest, spoke the Name of the Most High, but once per year, at the Feast of Atonement. Masonic Ritual tells us that he spoke the Name, only in a whisper, within the confines of the Sanctum Sanctorum. If, as we are told, he was alone, then the question arises, as to how he was given the Name in the first place and how he transmitted it to his successor in office?
Why the Name was a secret could be elaborated on to a lengthy blog entirely of its own, but reference to Ecclesiastes tells us that “there is a time for everything, a time to sow and a time to reap, a time to be born and a time to die..” and it is a fact, that man’s life is governed by time and season. His very existence depends on getting enough food and the ability to win it.
The fisherman who fails to take account of the tide is unlikely to get a good catch and the agriculturist is even more time dependent. All religions celebrate festivals to make auspicious these significant dates and the Priest is the man with the knowledge of the ritual and when to perform it. Therefore, the Priest had to be skilled in Calendrical Lore, with a complete knowledge of the movements of the sun, moon and the planets, which was vital in his predictive capacity.
The continued tribal prosperity was associated with a Deity, particular to the tribe who believed themselves to be his children. It was important to the tribe that they alone were the beneficiaries of this bounty and when called by his secret name the tribal god must appear. Masonic Ritual has overtones of the same belief in the Ritual, “for where the Name of God is invoked….”
Many Biblical wars can be attributed to attempts to capture the God of a more prosperous tribe. The God was captured when his Name was known and spoken profanely. The Romans exploited this belief by establishing Temples, in Rome, to all the Gods of the captive peoples.
The Jews were no exception to this rule and absolute secrecy had to be maintained and it is likely that the Sacred Name would have Calendrical significance.
Masonic Ritual is based on accounts of the building of a house to enclose the Sanctum Sanctorum. Three significant people were involved, two kings and a master Craftsman, who came from the tribe of DAN. This latter is very significant in the later text.
King Solomon is credited with the ability to talk with animals, birds and trees and we can assume from this, that his job in the Triad, was to preserve the Totemic significance of the Temple Ritual. We find that the Bards, in their riddles, spoke of birds and trees and animals, in a manner similar to Solomon. The Bible tells us of the birds and beasts acceptable as sacrifices and names the woods allowed in the construction of the temple.
The whispered word can be heard by any person determined to do so and current usage appears to clash, with the injunction for strict secrecy. To argue that a whispered word cannot be heard, is to denigrate the knowledge of acoustics known and exploited by ancient brethren. A trip to the Hypogeum (Malta,) or the Delphic Tripod, will quickly dispel any doubts on that score. As the Temple was an oracular chamber, we must assume that another way of lettering the words was used to maintain the secrecy desired.
I suggest that the Masonic Grip is a survival of the means used, but in a manner different from that now in use. Before this aspect can be developed, I must talk about ‘numbers.’
Three rule a Lodge, Five make a Lodge and Seven, or more make it perfect. Masonic Ritual gives an explanation which is adequate, unless born with a curious nature. There are many explanations for Three, but why five, or seven or more?
We find that 5 x 3, is given as the number of Fellowcraft in a later degree and also the number of conspirators, until 3 x 4 withdrew. Following the admonition to study Nature and Science, we have five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot, five petals on the flowers of the wild rose, hawthorn and apple blossom and fifteen knuckles on each hand, if we count the lower thumb joint. 3 x 4 x 3 x 5 gives us half a circle, in degrees, or Sun stations, in the old calendar and a pentagon is the only cursive figure which looks like a man, or a star.
There are five vowels and 3 x 7 consonants in our written language. All these numbers have significance in the Jewish Kabbalah, or in Pythagorism. It is also known that the Greeks used five dice of four numbers, in Divination and similar sets have been found in Ireland.
Those who are interested in dates can easily obtain them from the Internet, but to save boring others, I will just say that, about the time of the destruction of King Solomon’s Temple, the Celts were arriving in Britain and prior to that time, there had been a good trade with Egypt and the Middle East.
A Welsh Bard, in one of his poems, describes how a Bronze Age Priesthood, was expelled by agriculturists who owed allegiance to the tribal God Bel, Beli, or Belius, the God of the Danaans. This was the result of the joining of two likeminded tribes, one of whom were latecomers having arrived from the middle east, by way of Libya, Spain and the route around the coast. They instituted a religion, with the Dog, Roebuck and the Lapwing, as their guardians or totems.
These are the same as would be sacred to Hiram Abiff and the King of Tyre and we are told, the Lapwing knew all Solomon’s secrets and wisdom.
Julius Caesar wrote that the Britons had a transcendent God, equal to Dis, in the Roman Pantheon, who took control over the Gods, Minerva, Apollo, Mars, Jupiter and Mercury. He also noted that the Gauls went to Britain for their religious instruction and that the priests were so powerful that they could stop wars between tribes. Thus, the British God was, in many respects, similar to the God of the Jews.
Graves, traces the People of the Sea, through the place names they left and concludes that these people were the civilizers of the Semites and the Indo-European tribes, as well as the Asiatic fringe, so that religious traditions and myths, become the basis of the traditions of the Israelitish Confederacy and were welded together in the Pentateuch. Thus the Hebrews, Greeks and Celts have similar myths, as a result of the influence of the Danaans.
Pythagorous of Samoas (the student of Abaris the Hyperborean), was in Croton, in Sicily, in 510 B.C. and the Druic and Orphic Rites contain much that is common to Pythagorianism, so the mystical use of numbers can be accounted for and it is highly likely, that this was basically Calendar making, of a highly refined order.
We still have to account for how this knowledge was kept secret and unspoken and yet transmitted to those who were deemed worthy of instruction. The Bards of Ireland and Wales seem to have supplied the answers
Much of the poetical works of the Celtic Bards continued to be set in the Dactylic meter and written in OGHAM, even after the script of Latin and Greek had been adopted into regular use. This may be dismissed as an anachronism, such as the use of Old English in modern poetry, if it were not for the fact that much of the poetry seems to be nonsense, or describe such ridiculous things, as the wars of the trees and the bottles of flowers, or peculiar beasts.
Many riddles are set and strange things attributed to animals. Scholars such as Frazer, Graves and Mary Castlereagh, have studied these and find that the trees, birds and beasts are totemistic descriptions, sacred to various Deities, days of the week, festivals etc.
Ogham, the language of the Celtic poet, is a system of writing by means of nicks, cut into the edge of a stick, and differs from Runic, or Pictish, by being only straight lines.
Stick Ogham has fifteen letters and five vowels – our old friends again.
The letters are B, L, F, S, N, H, D, T, C, Q, M, G, Ng, Z, and R.
The vowels are A, O, U, E, I.
The whole being known as Beth Louis, after the first letters. The last vowel is Iochan.
Thus we recall that we have fifteen knuckles and five finger tips, which provide a full set of ‘working tools’ for the silent communication of any word, by lettering, or halving it with another, in the secret. Therefore, our fifteen Fellowcraft, two Deacons, Wardens and a Master, form a complete alphabet. I often wondered why the Deacons had to ‘bear’ all messages, but if they had to be given by touch, the phrase begins to make sense.
If we accept that messages were transmitted in this manner, we can see that the Bard was in the same situation as a Signals Officer, ready to detect and interpret touches on the hand, or nose, by one of his Fellows. Thus his position at the Kings right hand would be one of convenience as well as honour.
Bardic texts indicate that there were some 150 variations of the Ogham alphabet and that part we see on the Manx crosses, is known as Stick Ogham, but the alphabet most likely to have been used for touch transmission, is that known as Beth Luis Ogham, in which the finger tips and knuckles were used to represent letters .
Under the old Calendar of 364 days, plus 1, (a year and a day) made up of 13 months, of 28 days which was the Agricultural Year, the Seasons were under the control of the vowels and were five in number-
A-Winter Solstice (sun stand)
Each season with its own totemic bird and tree. There is a similarity to Masonic ritual, to much that was known to the Bard and when Freemasons state that they will always ‘hele, conceal and never reveal…,’ they are repeating part of the initiation oath taken by the Celtic Bard, when he started on the first, of his three, seven year periods of training, to become a Bard of the lowest order.
I hope this blog will help to indicate that a study of Ritual, will lead to a search for more satisfying answers, which are to be found in the old pathways of our culture, where truth is veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.
“Why travel from the East to the West? “ “To seek that which was lost.”
“How came them to be lost?” Therein lies the subject of another lecture!
Parts of this blog were posted by Brother Jimmy McCallum on Masonic Network. Brother Jimmy did not know the original author of this work. If you are the author, or know who is perhaps you would let me know, so I can give credit, where due, or remove it from display.