The Covering Of The Lodge
the symbolism of freemasonry
albert gallatin mackey
The Covering of the lodge is another, and must be our last reference to
this symbolism of the world or the universe. The mere mention of the fact
that this covering is figuratively supposed to be "a clouded canopy," or
the firmament, on which the host of stars is represented, will be enough
to indicate the continued allusion to the symbolism of the world. The
lodge, as a representative of the world, is of course supposed to have no
other roof than the heavens;82
and it would scarcely be necessary to enter into any
discussion on the subject, were it not that another symbol—the theological
ladder—is so intimately connected with it, that the one naturally suggests
the other. Now, this mystic ladder, which connects the ground floor of the
lodge with its roof or covering, is another important and interesting
link, which binds, with one common chain, the symbolism and ceremonies of
Freemasonry, and the symbolism and rites of the ancient initiations.
This mystical ladder, which in Masonry is referred to "the theological
ladder, which Jacob in his vision saw, reaching from earth to heaven," was
widely dispersed among the religions of antiquity, where it was always
supposed to consist of seven rounds or steps.
For instance, in the Mysteries of Mithras, in Persia, where there were
seven stages or degrees of initiation, there was erected in the temples,
or rather caves,—for it was in them that the initiation was conducted,—a
high ladder, of seven steps or gates, each of which was dedicated to one
of the planets, which was typified by one of the metals, the topmost step
representing the sun, so that, beginning at the bottom, we have Saturn
represented by lead, Venus by tin, Jupiter by brass, Mercury by iron, Mars
by a mixed metal, the Moon by silver, and the Sun by gold, the whole being
a symbol of the sidereal progress of the solar orb through the universe.
In the Mysteries of Brahma we find the same reference to the ladder of
seven steps; but here the names were different, although there was the
same allusion to the symbol of the universe. The seven steps were
emblematical of the seven worlds which constituted the Indian universe.
The lowest was the Earth; the second, the World of Reexistence; the third,
Heaven; the fourth, the Middle World, or intermediate region between the
lower and upper worlds; the fifth, the World of Births, in which souls are
again born; the sixth, the Mansion of the Blessed; and the seventh, or
topmost round, the Sphere of Truth, the abode of Brahma, he himself being
but a symbol of the sun, and hence we arrive once more at the masonic
symbolism of the universe and the solar orb.
Dr. Oliver thinks that in the Scandinavian Mysteries he has found the
mystic ladder in the sacred tree Ydrasil;83
but here the reference to the septenary division is so
imperfect, or at least abstruse, that I am unwilling to press it into our
catalogue of coincidences, although there is no doubt that we shall find
in this sacred tree the same allusion as in the ladder of Jacob, to an
ascent from earth, where its roots were planted, to heaven, where its
branches expanded, which ascent being but a change from mortality to
immortality, from time to eternity, was the doctrine taught in all the
initiations. The ascent of the ladder or of the tree was the ascent from
life here to life hereafter—from earth to heaven.
It is unnecessary to carry these parallelisms any farther. Any one can,
however, see in them an undoubted reference to that septenary division
which so universally prevailed throughout the ancient world, and the
influence of which is still felt even in the common day life and
observances of our time. Seven was, among the Hebrews, their perfect
number; and hence we see it continually recurring in all their sacred
rites. The creation was perfected in seven days; seven priests, with seven
trumpets, encompassed the walls of Jericho for seven days; Noah received
seven days' notice of the commencement of the deluge, and seven persons
accompanied him into the ark, which rested on Mount Ararat on the seventh
month; Solomon was seven years in building the temple: and there are
hundreds of other instances of the prominence of this talismanic number,
if there were either time or necessity to cite them.
Among the Gentiles the same number was equally sacred. Pythagoras
called it a "venerable number." The septenary division of time into weeks
of seven days, although not universal, as has been generally supposed, was
sufficiently so to indicate the influence of the number. And it is
remarkable, as perhaps in some way referring to the seven-stepped ladder
which we have been considering, that in the ancient Mysteries, as Apuleius
informs us, the candidate was seven times washed in the consecrated waters
There is, then, an anomaly in giving to the mystical ladder of Masonry
only three rounds. It is an anomaly, however, with which Masonry
has had nothing to do. The error arose from the ignorance of those
inventors who first engraved the masonic symbols for our monitors. The
ladder of Masonry, like the equipollent ladders of its kindred
institutions, always had seven steps, although in modern times the three
principal or upper ones are alone alluded to. These rounds, beginning at
the lowest, are Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, Justice, Faith, Hope,
and Charity. Charity, therefore, takes the same place in the ladder
of masonic virtues as the sun does in the ladder of planets. In the ladder
of metals we find gold, and in that of colors yellow, occupying the same
elevated position. Now, St. Paul explains Charity as signifying, not
alms-giving, which is the modern popular meaning, but love—that love which
"suffereth long and is kind;" and when, in our lectures on this subject,
we speak of it as the greatest of virtues, because, when Faith is lost and
Hope has ceased, it extends "beyond the grave to realms of endless bliss,"
we there refer it to the Divine Love of our Creator. But Portal, in his
Essay on Symbolic Colors, informs us that the sun represents Divine Love,
and gold indicates the goodness of God.
So that if Charity is equivalent to Divine Love, and Divine Love is
represented by the sun, and lastly, if Charity be the topmost round of the
masonic ladder, then again we arrive, as the result of our researches, at
the symbol so often already repeated of the solar orb. The natural sun or
the spiritual sun—the sun, either as the vivifying principle of animated
nature, and therefore the special object of adoration, or as the most
prominent instrument of the Creator's benevolence—was ever a leading idea
in the symbolism of antiquity.
Its prevalence, therefore, in the masonic institution, is a pregnant
evidence of the close analogy existing between it and all these systems.
How that analogy was first introduced, and how it is to be explained,
without detriment to the purity and truthfulness of our own religious
character, would involve a long inquiry into the origin of Freemasonry,
and the history of its connection with the ancient systems.
These researches might have been extended still farther; enough,
however, has been said to establish the following leading principles:—
1. That Freemasonry is, strictly speaking, a science of symbolism.
2. That in this symbolism it bears a striking analogy to the same
science, as seen in the mystic rites of the ancient religions.
3. That as in these ancient religions the universe was symbolized to
the candidate, and the sun, as its vivifying principle, made the object of
his adoration, or at least of his veneration, so, in Masonry, the lodge is
made the representative of the world or the universe, and the sun is
presented as its most prominent symbol.
4. That this identity of symbolism proves an identity of origin, which
identity of origin can be shown to be strictly compatible with the true
religious sentiment of Masonry.
5. And fifthly and lastly, that the whole symbolism of Freemasonry has
an exclusive reference to what the Kabalists have called the ALGABIL—the
Master Builder—him whom Freemasons have designated as the Grand
Architect of the Universe.
82. Such was the
opinion of some of the ancient sun-worshippers, whose adorations were
always performed in the open air, because they thought no temple was
spacious enough to contain the sun; and hence the saying, "Mundus
universus est templum solis"—the universe is the temple of the sun. Like
our ancient brethren, they worshipped only on the highest hills.
83. Asgard, the
abode of the gods, is shaded by the ash tree,
Ydrasil, where the gods assemble every day to do justice. The
branches of this tree extend themselves over the whole world, and reach
above the heavens. It hath three roots, extremely distant from each other:
one of them is among the gods; the second is among the giants, where the
abyss formerly was; the third covers Niflheim, or hell, and under
this root is the fountain Vergelmer, whence flow the infernal
rivers.—Edda, Fab. 8.
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