VEILED in ALLEGORY and ILLUSTRATED
This Short Talk is a portion
of Chapter I of Beyond the Pillars, a manual
of Masonic instruction published in 1973 by
the Grand Lodge of Canada in the Province of
Ontario and copyrighted by Masonic Holdings
of Hamilton, Ontario, with whose permission
this useful instruction is reproduced in this
In the examination before Passing,
Masonry is said to be "a beautiful system
of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated
by symbols." While allegory and symbol
play a prominent role in the Craft they are
by no means restricted to it. Brethren who have
a clear idea of how these devices work will
find a deeper understanding of how Masonry operates
and what it means.
". . . ILLUSTRATED by SYMBOLS"
A symbol is "something that
stands for, represents, or denotes something
else (not by exact resemblance, but by vague
suggestion, or by some accidental or conventional
relation)" (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary).
Some symbols occur so frequently in daily life
that we have stopped thinking of them as symbols.
Most familiar are the letters of the alphabet.
There is no clear reason why the shape S should
stand for a hissing sound, but we all accept
it as such. Other symbols in common use include
the numerals, mathematical and monetary signs,
musical notation, and scientific formulas. Such
symbols are indispensable for almost any sort
of communication. Without them the marvels of
modern science could never have been achieved.
Another type of symbol is found
in the arts, both graphic and verbal. It represents
something which is abstract, or hard to visualize,
in terms of something which can be perceived
by our sense, above all by sight. In this way
purity is symbolized by the colour white, peace
by the dove and olive-branch, poison by the
skull and crossbones, Canada by the beaver or
the maple leaf, Christianity by the cross, Judaism
by the star of David. Sometimes in the world
of advertising, symbols are registered as "trademarks."
The ancient messenger god Mercury, speeding
through the air with winged hat and winged sandals,
represents "Floral Telegraph Delivery."
In literature the symbol often
occurs in combination with one of the traditional
"figures of speech," simile, metaphor,
or metonymy. In a little poem by W. S. Landor,
life is compared to and symbolized by a warm
I strove with none, for none was
worth my strife;
Nature I loved, and after Nature,
I warmed both hands before the
fire of life.
It sinks, and I am ready to depart.
Certain symbols might conceivably
stand for a number of different things, and
their precise application is derived from the
immediate context. Thus, warmth, light, fire,
and day regularly stand for "life."
But at one point in Paradise Lost Milton calls
upon Light to help him. This is appropriate
in a literal sense, because his story is moving
from the gloomy realm of Satan to the ethereal
brightness of Heaven. We are also reminded that
Milton, because of his blindness, could not
see the light like other men. But finally we
learn that here the light is symbolic, and that
it represents poetic insight.
Shine inward, and the mind through
all her powers
Irradiate; there plant eyes; all
mist from thence
Purge and disperse, that I may
see and tell
Of things invisible to mortal
Our own Canadian poem In Flanders
Fields also makes use of the symbol of light.
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it
If ye break faith \with us who
We shall not sleep ...
Here presumably the torch represents
not just the continuity of life, but the struggle
for survival and victory.
A symbol's associations go far
beyond its simple pictorial meaning. It can
sometimes be used, not merely to facilitate
thought, but even to shape it. Who can be afraid
of death if it is symbolized by putting out
to sea, or falling to sleep?
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of
When I put out to sea....
(Tennyson, Crossing the Bar)
So live, that when thy summons
comes to join
The innumerable caravan which
To that mysterious realm, where
each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls
Thou go not like the quarry-slave
Scourged to his dungeon, but,
sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach
Like one who wraps the drapery
of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant
For the Freemason, an ear of corn
near a stream of water denotes plenty, the chisel
represents perseverance, the Doric order of
architecture is strength, the sprig of acacia
reminds us of immortality. The symbols need
not always be consistent, but can stand for
different things. The twenty-four-inch gauge
can represent the twenty-four-hour day, and
also accuracy. The square stands for morality,
but also for the Worshipful Master. In the First
Degree the darkness is the darkness of ignorance;
in the Third, it is the darkness of death. Nor
are all the symbols explained for us. If you
have a flair for recognizing them, there is
ample scope to indulge your talents. Every character,
figure, and emblem has a moral tendency, and
serves to inculcate the practice of virtue in
all its genuine professors.
"VEILED in ALLEGORY ...
An allegory is a "narrative
description of a subject under guise of another
suggestively similar" (Concise Oxford Dictionary).
That is, it is a story in which the characters
are symbols. An allegory may be sustained for
quite a while. At first an unwary reader may
believe that he is beginning a novel. As he
proceeds, it gradually dawns on him that he
is reading about something quite different from
what he thought, that he is being "preached
at" or somehow "i got at" in
an indirect way.
The best known allegory in English
is Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Ostensibly it
is a series of random adventures met with by
a hero named Christian on his journey to the
Celestial City. On another level it portrays
the tribulations endured by the soul of a believer
in the course of his life. Even today the allegory
is far from dead. The reader of the C. S. Lewis
series of Narnia stories gradually comes to
the realization that the compassionate, just,
and awesome lion Aslan is none other than God.
J. R. R.
Tolkien's magnificent trilogy
The Lord of the Rings is in some sense a portrayal
of the struggle between good and evil. Not infrequently
allegory is combined with satire. In George
Orwell's Animal Farm, the beasts take over,
and proceed to behave like various recognizable
breeds of politician.
Allegory always strives to combine
entertainment with instruction. As a teaching
method, it is sanctioned by long usage. The
older and briefer specimens are known by other
names. Aesop's fables, with their moral lessons,
are nothing but allegories. The greatest teacher
of all time taught by allegories, but he called
them parables; everyone will recall, for example,
the Prodigal Son.
In Masonry, the sequence of the
three degrees is itself allegorical, and represents
the course of human existence. In like manner,
the building of the Temple prefigures the erection
of our moral edifice. Of cardinal importance
is the Traditional History of the Third Degree.
Because it is an allegory its truth does not
reside in its factual narrative. The literal
minded can always find flaws in it. For example,
how came "those secrets" to be lost
at the death of our Grand Master? There were,
after all, two other Grand Masters who presumably
knew them. The truth of the story is rather
to be sought in the moral lesson it intends
The words "veiled in allegory"
imply that some of the truths of Masonry are
concealed from the uninitiated, but that they
can be discovered by one who is privileged to
join. It takes practice to learn how to recognize
and appreciate symbol and allegory. Only through
sincere, intelligent, and sustained effort,
reinforced by imaginative and emotional sensitivity,
can the reward be reaped.
OUTLINE for a SHORT TALK
1. Source of Title
11. Symbols: Examples
A. from daily life
B. from arts and literature
C. from Masonry
B. examples in literature
C. Masonic allegories
IV. Conclusion: Symbolic Values
How to use the
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