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THE MENAGERIE OF MASONRY
Animals have played an important part in symbolism from its very beginning; perhaps because man preferred to symbolize life by the living; perhaps because he found such strong analogies between the characteristics of, or the virtues he ascribed to animals, birds and other forms of life and the truths he desired to express in symbols. A lamb is actually no more “innocent” than a lion or a dog.
“Innocence” is defined as the state of being free of evil, or from that which corrupts or taints; purity. One animal is on par with another in these respects; neither lion nor lamb, jackal nor wolf is “corrupted” or “tainted.”
But the quality of innocence is often associated in our minds with ignorance; often it means a weakness to resist, as when we speak of an “innocent child.” The lamb is weak; the lamb is meek; the lamb is white and white is spotless, without soil or blemish; the lamb requires care and guardianship, as does the child or the young girl - therefore it is the weak lamb, and not the strong, predatory, courageous and snarling lion which “in all ages” has been the symbol of innocence.
“In all ages” is a pleasant figure of speech which makes up in roundness what it lacks in definiteness. Throughout the Old Testament are references to lambs, often in connection with sacrifices, frequently used in a sense symbolic of innocence, purity, gentleness and weakness. It is probably from both the Old and New Testaments use of a lamb that “in all ages” it has been a symbol for innocence, a matter aided by the color, which we unconsciously associate with purity, probably because of the hue of snow. It is not a universal association though; the Chinese, for instance, so often diametrically opposite the Occidentals in their thinking, associate white with death.
The lion is one of Freemasonry’s most powerful and potent symbols; “The Lion of the Tribe of Judah” is so prominent in the ritual as to be most familiar and the Masonic world needs no instruction as to the significance of the paw of the lion. Yet both are often less fully comprehended than their importance warrants.
The Lion of the Tribe of Judah has had various interpretations, some of them rather unfair in their attempt to prove a point. No well- informed Freemason thinks that Freemasonry is a Christian organization, any more than it is Jewish or Mohammedan; albeit there are more Christian Masons than Jewish or Mohammedan Masons. To deny that the Lion of the Tribe of Judah refers to Christ, that it means “only” a probable redeemer who would spring from the Tribe of Judah; to try to read into the expression “only” a reference to King Solomon, is to disregard the undoubted fact that in its early stages in England, Freemasonry was not only Christian, but allied to the Church.
The First of the Old Charges makes this very plain:
“But though in Ancient Times Masons were charged in every Country to be of the religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet `tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves; that it, to be good men and true, or Men of Honor and Honesty by whatever Denominations or persuasions they may be Distinguished; whereby Masonry becomes a Center of Union and the Means of conciliating true friendship among persons that must have remained at a perpetual distance.”
Prior to this broad-minded inclusion of men of all religions in Freemasonry, operative Masons were “of the religion of the country, whatever it was.” This was predominately Christian, in England, France and Germany.
Judah was symbolized as a lion in his father’s death bed blessing. The lion was upon the standard of the large and powerful tribe of Judah. “Lion of the Tribe of Judah” was one of Solomon’s titles. But Christian interpretation of the phrase springs from Revelations (V. 5(, “Behold, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book and to loose the seven seals thereof.”
The idea of a resurrection is curiously interwoven with the lion “in all ages” to quote the familiar phrase. In the twelfth century one Philip de Thaun states: “Know that the lioness, if she bring forth a dead cub, she holds her cub and the lion arrives; he goes about and cries, till it revives on the third day.” The rest of the quotation ascribes a wholly Christian interpretation to the ancient legend. Another writer of the middle ages has it:
Thus the strong lion of Judah The gates of cruel death being broken Arose on the third day At the loud sounding voice of the father.
The lion was connected with resurrection long before the Man of Galilee walked upon the earth. In ancient Egypt, as we learn from the stone carvings on the ruins of Temples, a lion raised Osiris from a dead level to a living perpendicular by a grip of his paw; the carvings show a figure standing behind the Altar, observing the raising of the dead, with its left arm raised, forming the angle of a square.
The Lion of the Tribe of Judah, considered as signifying a coming redeemer who would spring from the tribe, or meaning the King of Israel who built the Temple, or symbolizing the Christ, must not be confused with the mode of recognition so inextricably mingled with the Sublime Degree, teaching of a resurrection and a future life. A curious inversion of the idea of the lion’s paw as a symbol of life is found in I Samuel, XVII 34:37. David tells Saul of rescuing a lamb from a lion and a bear, and slaying both. Then (37) “David said moreover, the Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion . . . he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.”
Unquestionably the Israelites absorbed much of Egyptian beliefs during the captivity, which may account both for the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and our own use of the paw.
But read the symbolism how we will, or by whatever light we please, the lion has a Masonic significance of tremendous importance and hoary antiquity; one which bears deep study without revealing all its secrets.
To the world at large the best known animal in the Masonic Menagerie is the goat! Alas, that goat! What harm has he not done to our gentle Fraternity! Could the brother who jokes to the prospective initiate about the terrors of “riding the goat” and the severe treatment he may expect when the aprochryphal animal is let loose upon him, but learn how the idea originated, he would never more soil the most magnificent symbol of the mightiest of man’s hopes with so shocking and debasing an idea.
The great God Pan has been sung and storied since the birth of mythology. Originally he was anything but terrifying; a gentle, rather whimsical God with a sense of humor. He was that Arcadian God of the shepherds, chief of the inferior deities, generally considered to be the child of Mercury and Penelope. Pan possessed long ears and horns; the lower half of his body was that of a goat. He invented Pan’s Pipes, or “syrinx.” From him we have the word “panic,” the state into which the Gauls were thrown on invading ancient Greece and seeing Pan!
Myths and legends undergo strange transformations.
When the early Christian drew upon mythology they modified and changed it; gentle Pan became Satan! To the common mind, Satan, or the devil, was a he-goat. Thus the devil came into possession of horns and a tail, and the familiar cloven hoof. Later, in the Middle Ages, the devil took a more dignified form, in keeping with his supposed power. But the people would not wholly give up the goat, therefore their devil was supposed to appear riding on a goat. Witches were credited with performing fearful ceremonies in which they raised the devil in order to do homage to him and his goat.
In the early days of Masonry in London, the enemies of the Fraternity employed the weapon of ridicule; processions of Mock Masons, the Gormogons and or other organizations made all manner of fun of the secrecy and the ceremonies of Freemasonry. Some of this fun was a bitter and venomous jest; jealousy and ill-will of the excluded circulated stories that Freemasons and witchcraft were allied. that Freemasons were accustomed to raise the devil in their lodges - and, of course, he appeared riding on his goat!
Gradually in common minds the belief came into being that Freemasons “rode the goat.” We still have the expression, though not the belief. Yet the coarse-minded and the unthinking still torment the petitioner with tales of riding and being butted by the goat. They pretend - or perhaps the just pretend to pretend - that the initiative ceremonies are terrifying.
Brethren who thus regularly - albeit often innocently - tell tales of the Masonic goat to initiates or the profane, carry forward a ridicule and enmity of the Order begun more than two hundred years ago. In peopling our lodge rooms with goats they perpetuate am ignorant superstition and slander the fair fame of the Institution by indicating that its practices are anti-religious and blasphemous.
Let him who has the good of the order in his heart cast from his mind and eliminate from his speech all references to a Masonic goat, which came from ridicule, which descended from the idea of the devil, which in its turn came from the frolicsome half-goat, half-man God Pan. No Masonic Menagerie would be complete which did not include the beasts of the field and the birds of the air; here the influence of the Old Testament is strongly felt. In I Samuel (XVII 41) we read:
“And the Philistine said unto David, Come to me and I will give thy flesh to the fowls of the air and to the beasts of the field.”
“Beasts of the field” is an expression which denotes more than one variety of animal. In the Old Testament the term beasts denotes any brute, as distinguished from man; a quadruped as distinguished from other living creatures; a wild animal as distinguished from a domesticated one, and the apocalyptic symbol of brute force as the opposite of Divine power.
Obviously it is not the domesticated cattle, the asses and goats and the sheep, from the attacks of which human infant is unable to guard himself, as in the phrases from the explanation of the Bee Hive. Nor did the Philistine imagine, if he gave David’s flesh to cattle, that they would eat it! His “Beasts of the Field” are the wild beasts - the beasts of Leviticus (XXVI 22): “I will also send wild beasts among you,” etc. These wild beasts are bears, wild bulls, hyenas. jackals, leopards and wolves; all Old Testament animals. It is these which must be visualized when Freemasons use the word, not horses, cows, dogs, sheep and asses.
The vultures of the Old Testament are typified by those spoken of in Isaiah XXXIV, in which the desolation of the enemies of God are described. The land is to be burned and to lie waste and “none shall pass through it for ever and ever.” Thorns and nettles and brambles are to grow upon it; the wild beasts shall inhabit it and (15) “There shall the great owl make her nest and lay and hatch and gather under her shadow; there shall the vultures also be gathered, every one with her mate.”
It is unnecessary more than to mention the symbolism of the bees in the hive. As an emblem of industry they are sufficiently explained in the ritual; moreover, bees are hardly to be considered as parts of a menagerie!
If small, the Masonic Menagerie is select and exclusive; its symbols are plain for all to read; yet they have deeper and more spiritual meanings for those who are willing to look below the surface and see in lion and lamb - and even goat - as well as the beasts of the field and birds of the air, a gentle teaching of man’s hope of immortality, at once touching and comforting.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014