About the Book
The Symbolism of Freemasonry
The various modes of communicating instruction to the uninformed, the masonic student is particularly interested in two; namely, the instruction by legends and that by symbols. It is to these two, almost exclusively, that he is indebted for all that he knows, and for all that he can know, of the philosophic system which is taught in the institution. All its mysteries and its dogmas, which constitute its philosophy, are intrusted for communication to the neophyte, sometimes to one, sometimes to the other of these two methods of instruction, and sometimes to both of them combined. The Freemason has no way of reaching any of the esoteric teachings of the Order except through the medium of a legend or a symbol.
A legend differs from an historical narrative only in this--that it is without documentary evidence of authenticity. It is the offspring solely of tradition. Its details may be true in part or in whole. There may be no internal evidence to the contrary, or there may be internal evidence that they are altogether false. But neither the possibility of truth in the one case, nor the certainty of falsehood in the other, can remove the traditional narrative from the class of legends. It is a legend simply because it rests on no written foundation. It is oral, and therefore legendary.
But there is another method of masonic instruction, and that is by symbols. No science is more ancient than that of symbolism. At one time, nearly all the learning of the world was conveyed in symbols. And although modern philosophy now deals only in abstract propositions, Freemasonry still cleaves to the ancient method, and has preserved it in its primitive importance as a means of communicating knowledge.
According to the derivation of the word from the Greek, "to symbolize" signifies "to compare one thing with another." Hence a symbol is the expression of an idea that has been derived from the comparison or contrast of some object with a moral conception or attribute. Thus we say that the plumb is a symbol of rectitude of conduct. The physical qualities of the plumb are here compared or contrasted with the moral conception of virtue, or rectitude. Then to the Speculative Mason it becomes, after he has been taught its symbolic meaning, the visible expression of the idea of moral uprightness.
But although there are these two modes of instruction in Freemasonry,--by legends and by symbols,--there really is no radical difference between the two methods. The symbol is a visible, and the legend an audible representation of some contrasted idea--of some moral conception produced from a comparison. Both the legend and the symbol relate to dogmas of a deep religious character; both of them convey moral sentiments in the same peculiar method, and both of them are designed by this method to illustrate the philosophy of Speculative Masonry.