Food For Thought
Light in Freemasonry
Light in Freemasonry
By W Bro. R. C MITCHELL.
From very early times the word Light has had, besides its primary meaning, the additional meaning of knowledge, understanding and wisdom. As physical light enables the eye to see, so knowledge enables the mind to understand and comprehend. An enlightened mind is one which, besides being educated and cultured, seeks after moral truth. Thus "Light" has come to mean, in an emblematic sense, moral and spiritual understanding, truth, goodness, the beam which proceeds from God Himself. On the other hand, darkness, being the antithesis of light, implies ignorance, depravity, cruelty and evil.
So it is we find it in Freemasonry; in fact it may be said that Freemasonry is the science of emblematic or symbolic Light, and Freemasons the seekers after Light. The principal allegory in Freemasonry is of a man groping his way from infancy towards the Light, ever seeking and searching from youth to old age for truth, wisdom and understanding: to find his own place in the great plan of the Universe: and to gain knowledge of its great Creator and Architect.
So In our ceremonies a Candidate is placed symbolically in a state or darkness; but later when light is r . . . d to him the sudden transition is almost blinding in effect and he is unable to see clearly. This is a representation of the bewilderment of his mind when he is introduced to Greater Lights, Lesser Lights, Sun and Moon, physical light and emblematical light; he is bombarded with the word "Light" and of one thing only does he feel sure, and that is that Light is very important in Freemasonry.
Throughout our Masonic ceremonies and charges we find allegory and symbolism, comparisons and parallels, and this also implies to Light; in fact Light may be said to embrace all our symbols.
We are well aware that we are descended from those early Cathedral Builders of some six or seven hundred years ago, and it is both interesting and instructive to compare an imaginary Lodge of operative masons of that period with a modern Lodge of Freemasons, particularly with regard to Light. The Lodge building or workroom for fashioning the freestone was frequently erected on the partially built south wall of the new cathedral, and openings were made in the east, south and west to admit light. The positions and the reasons for them, of the Master and his Wardens or foremen, are very aptly set out in the opening ceremony of today.
Let it be noted there is no opening for the entry of light in the north. Therefore the north becomes emblematically the place of darkness. However, ancient mythology has it that the West is the place of darkness as it is opposite to the East, the place of light, and also is the place where the Sun-god goes daily to his death. Our institution has happily if not intentionally combined both ideas. for in our ceremonies the Candidate begins his progress in the Lodge in the N.W., as from a figurative point of view this is the darkest place in the Lodge, signifying ignorance; and it is from this point that he is gently led towards the East, the source of light. or symbolically the place whence comes knowledge and understanding.
Physical light when suddenly r . . . d is dazzling to his eyes and bewildering to his mind, and is designed to teach him that spiritual truths cannot be fully understood by the immature mind at one bound, but must be gradually assimilated as the mind is trained to comprehend.
Later, when he is placed in the N.E. part of the Lodge, he not only figuratively represents a foundation stone, but his position also implies that he has progressed from darkness into light. Similarly a Fellow Craft is placed in the S.E., a place of greater light, to symbolise an increase in his knowledge.
A Light to an architect, mason, or builder, means a window, or the means by which natural light obtains entry into a building, e.g. skylight. The Great Light In the East in many of the old cathedrals was a wonderful piece of work, quite apart from the lovely stained glass with which each was glazed. The designing of the huge window and its construction - the masons work, displays great artistry and extreme skill, and after viewing such work one feels both humble and proud to call oneself a Mason. These glorious examples of the mason's craft are very fitting symbols of the great emblematical light in the East, the V.S.L.; and the V.S.L. is in turn a symbol of the G.A.O.T.U. Himself the source of all spiritual light: eternal truth.
Here we find a triple comparison, for we have:
(1) Light itself, i.e., physical light and the vehicle or means by which that light enters a building, e.g. a window.
(2) Enlightenment, i.e., the light of knowledge and moral truth and virtue, represented by the W.Ts. of a Freemason.
(3) Wisdom, or spiritual understanding as represented by the V.S.L., in which is set out our duty to God, our neighbours and ourselves.
So, to our initiate are revealed three Great Lights and he is informed of their purpose and teaching, the Sacred Volume to govern our faith, the Square to regulate our conduct, and the Compasses to keep us within due bounds with all mankind. Then his attention is drawn to three Lesser Lights, and he is told that they represent the Sun, Moon, and Master of the Lodge, and given the reasons why they are said to represent them. It is rather strange that the Three Great Lights are not said to represent anything. and I suggest that in the early days of Speculative Masonry, when Freemasonry was Christian in belief and teaching, it was implied that the Three Great Lights represented the Three Persons in the Trinity.
Of the Three Lesser Lights, the Sun, being the source of natural light, is frequently mentioned in our ceremonies and lectures, but the Moon, except for the statement that it rules the night, does not appear to have any symbolic significance. However I suggest that when the S.W. lowers his column, it signifies the setting of the Sun and similarly when the J.W. raises his, it signifies the rising of the Moon. This suggestion is strengthened by the fact that from very early times Freemasons were forbidden to work after sundown because of the hazardous nature of their work, and thus the setting of the Sun and rising of the Moon implied that the work had ceased and the time for refreshment and sleep arrived. So, symbolically, when the Moon (J.W.) governs there is no work.
In our speculation we must be careful that we do not confuse Light with the source of that Light, and pay homage and reverence where it is not due. This error is one reason for the prevalence of Sun-worship, the beginnings of which are lost in antiquity. Even the Israelites were guilty of this error for it is recorded in the V.S.L. that on numerous occasions they worshipped Baal, which was the Sun. It is interesting to note that the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and King Solomon's Temple which was patterned on it, both had their entrances in the East so that priests and worshippers had of necessity to turn their backs on the Sun, and I suggest that the Blazing Star, the Glory in the Centre, which is a representation of the Sun, the Glory in the Heavens, is placed upon the floor of the Lodge so that it may he trampled underfoot to remind us that it is not an object of worship, but one of the glorious creations of the G.A.O.T.U.
The Master's and Wardens' Lights have had a somewhat chequered career, having once been known as the Lesser Lights and been placed near the V.S.L.. somewhat after the nature of altar candles. Then they were moved to their present position to replace the "fixed lights" or windows situated in the East, South and West,
These Lights serve to show that the Lodge is properly constituted and dedicated, and symbolically that the Master and Wardens as rulers of the Lodge are prepared to shed Masonic Light upon their brethren; and further as a reminder to them to obey that injunction in the V.S.L. - "To let their light so shine before men that they may see their good works".
Having mentioned the Sun and Moon, one expects to find Stars also coming into our Lectures. They are mentioned hut do not appear to have any particular significance and are apparently for Masonic speculation, and I suggest that even as the stars shed some light upon our dark world, so each of us should endeavour to shed his quota of Masonic light upon the community.
At a later stage in his Masonic career the young Mason is told that the light of a M.M. is but darkness visible. This is but another way of stating the old truth expressed by Paul and found in his Epistle to the Corinthians, where he says that "Now we see through a glass, darkly. but then face to face', this takes us right back to the beginning again, as it is but a repetition of the first lesson we receive in Freemasonry, that Eternal Truth - Divine Light - call it what you will, is too vast, too great, too deep for our human understanding, but lest we be discouraged the path to be followed is lighted to the extent that we seek the light, and that it is unveiled to us. This glimmering ray has both physical and spiritual reference; first
It is the dim light shed by the Master's light and secondly it is a reference to "that light, which is from above", the V.S.L., man's endeavour to express his feeble understanding of Divine Light - a ray, a shaft of light proceeding from the Source of all Light.
Finally his attention is drawn to the rising of that Bright Morning Star as a source of help. encouragement and hope to light him on his way. and I suggest that this is another reminder of the Christian character of Freemasonry of not so long ago, for is it not a reference to the bright and morning star of Rev. 2 v. 16?
So, Brethren, we find that every act and word in Freemasonry should lead us towards the light of greater knowledge. The perambulations of a Candidate are a symbol of time, for each advance toward the East where knowledge and instruction is imparted is followed by a retirement towards the West: morning, afternoon, evening and night: knowledge gained, a time for assimilation and reflection, and preparation to make a further advance, emblematic of that exhortation to make a daily advancement in Masonic knowledge.
SOURCE: UML Vol 12 n16 p269-271