The Two Ashlars

By Bro. F.C. Higgins, New York

Our lodge is in every respect a symbolic workshop, furnished with all the tools belonging to the different grades of workmen, and with a trestleboard upon which are set forth the day’s designs and the material upon which the labor of the brethren is to be expended.

This symbolic material consists of the two ashlars, emblematic of the crude material and the finished product, which are placed plainly enough on view in New York lodges, but absent or almost unknown except to students in many other states. The oblong stones and nondescript slabs sometimes seen are noteworthy evidence that the age-old significance of the “cubical stone,” which has played such a prominent role in the mythology and mysticism of the past, has almost run to oblivion in the modern craft. These stones should really be perfect cubes. The symbolism of the working tools is completely lost the moment such proportions are lost sight of or ignored. The ancient Hebrews had their own version of the great “number philosophy,” which lent sanctity and expressiveness to the number 12. First of all, it was the number of their Twelve Tribes, who were doubtless a symbolical enrolment of all the heads of families under the zodiacal sign of the month in which they were born. It is certainly significant that the patriarchal system was founded upon this number, and later on many other dispositions were made that showed a particular reverence for the Chaldean plan of the universe based upon 12 signs. As one cube possesses six sides each of which is a perfect square, a number of remarkable mathematical and geometrical symbolisms were established based upon the fact that all the numbers, from one to 12 added together produce 78. This number is also the sum of 3 times “26,” the numerical value of the “Great and Sacred Name of Jehovah” (JHVH).

As each cube possesses 12 edges, the combined number require a 24-inch rule to symbolize their total outline. The breaking into different mathematical combinations of this supreme number, each significant of some one of the great ruling phenomena of nature, was seen in the symbolism of the use of an operative Mason’s gavel in the dressing of building stones.

The grand old mystery name of our Creator, called the Tetragrammaton (Greek for “four-letter name”) had as its root the three letters J, H, and V, which as numbers were 10, 5, and 6, or 21, the sum of the added numbers 1 to 6 represented by a single cube.

This fact was made the basis of a curious legend, ought by the wise old rabbis into that marvelous compilation called the Talmud, from which more than a little of our Masonic material has been derived.

The story is of the Patriarch Enoch (Hanok, father Methuseleh), whose name means “the initiator,” 10, all accounts agree, lived 365 years, or a “year of years.” A remarkable book attributed to him is often alluded to by the Hebrew commentators and early Christian “Fathers”; but no trace of it was ever found until in the last century it turned up in Abyssinia. It has been translated out of that strange African dialect into many tongues. The so-called Book of Enoch contains a remarkable recital of astronomical science as known to the ancients, told entirely in allegorical form, while the history of the Children of Israel is prophesied ( ?) under the allegorical simile of the remarkable doings of a singularly intelligent flock of sheep which which build a house for their shepherd, the whole reading very much like a children’s fairy tale.

The Talmudic legend of Enoch represents him as greatly disturbed at the news of the impending world Deluge,” for fear the Name of God should be lost. He accordingly caused it to be inscribed upon a triangular plate of gold, and affixed it to a cubical stone, for the safe keeping of which he caused a series of nine arched vaults to be constructed, one beneath another, at the foot of Mt. Moriah (the holy mountain of the Jews, as Mt. Meru was of the Hindus). The rains came and the flood descended, and so washed the mud and silt over the site that it became completely obliterated.

Centuries later, when King David was moved “to build an house unto the Lord,” and actually set his workmen to dig the foundations thereof, the latter discovered the vaults, and descending therein brought to light the long-buried stone.

Tradition also has it that the material of this stone was agate, which would at once connect it with the Hermetic philosophy; for agate, above all, was sacred to Hermes and Thoth or David. The latter, having been a warlike monarch, was not permitted to achieve that which he had begun and so bequeathed the cubical stone to his son Solomon, who made use of it as the cornerstone of the Temple.

The imagery of this is plain enough in the fact that, not in a written or engraved inscription, but in the mathematical proportions of the cube itself, was to be found that wonderful Name which is, as it were, the foundation of the universe, of which man is a fleshly epitome and the Temple on Mt. Moriah a symbolic one.

By knowing the use of the working tools of an E. A. the initiate might begin his labor of hewing and shaping the brute matter at his feet into stones fit for the builders’ use; but when he had accomplished his task he was apprised that the symmetry and order it represented in its finished shape was “God”: not a god whom he created, but a God whom his patient labor had revealed.

The cube itself was an age-old symbol of the spiritual Man, as set forth in the Mahabarata of ancient India:

A portion of Mine own Self, transformed in the world of life into an immortal Spirit, draweth round itself the senses of which the Mind, is the Sixth, veiled in Matter.

Therefore we find the cube present in all the ancient mythologies, which were but racial cloaks for one and the same wisdom religion, understood by the priests of all countries alike as a symbol of the sixth sign of the zodiac, the characters portraying the great Mother of Wisdom and her divine son Man.

It is the task of the apprentice to break through the shell of matter and liberate the Divine Word that dwells within by opening his own spiritual perceptions to the light of the Logos. As the priceless statues of Phidias and Praxiteles were once shapeless masses of unmeaning stone and the Parthenon a sea-worn crag, until gavel and gage, mallet and chisel, in the hand of inspiration had performed their tasks, so has always been the lesson of the cube in its unshapen and shapen forms to the apprentice Mason.

Source: The Builder December 1916

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