Masonic Rituals Idealize Moral Lessons

Before Solomon and Hiram, there was Noah – God’s Builder.

The Bible is not only the first and foremost of The Three Great Lights of Masonry; its Old Testament is the source of legends set forth in our three Craft Degrees. The building of King Solomon’s Temple by the Master Architect Hiram Abif, as related in our ritual, is extrapolated from an episode in the Book of Kings that mentions and describes Hiram Abif (whose last name is not given), who “came to King Solomon and did all his work.” (1 Kings 7:13-14) The rest of the Hiram story, as we know it, is the work of the Enlightenment Freemasons who wrote our rituals. But this was not the first Bible story that had been elaborated into Masonic ritual.

Some earlier rituals were based on another, older episode, from the Book of Genesis: the building of the ark by Noah, commanded by God to do so in order to save humanity (and the many species of animals) from the great flood by which the Creator sought to cleanse the earth of the iniquities of mankind. It is not widely known that this “Antediluvian” Masonic ritual tradition remains in use today. One Blue Lodge degree merely mentions the ark and anchor in its lecture. A Scottish Rite degree – Noachite, or Prussian Knight – notes that these Knights, who arose during the Crusades, called themselves “Noachite Masons” out of respect for the beloved Patriarch. The degree itself concerns those Prussian Knights, but has little to do with Noah. However, the “Royal Ark Mariner” and “Ark and the Dove” are among the Allied Masonic Degrees, and that there are important references to the Noah legend in the extant degrees of the Royal Arch.

The most striking parallel, of course, is that both legends – as our rituals are more legend than history – are based on the building of great Biblical structures, and the death and “raising” of their chief builders. These similarities, and Masonry’s transition from one to the other, are the subject of John Theophilus Desaguliers’ (a colleague of Isaac Newton, who collaborated with James Anderson in writing the Constitutions) contributions to Anderson’s Constitutions and his role in creating the Hiramic degree, “which became part of the Masonic ritual by 1730.”

The venerable Albert Mackey tells us that “…we find soon after the cataclysm, the immediate descendants of Noah in the possession of at least two religious truths…the existence of a Supreme Intelligence…and the belief in the immortality of the soul…” These, he notes, “…are the doctrines which still constitute the creed of Freemasonry.” Perhaps these principles were what had been “lost” that must be sought after in the rituals of Noachite Freemasonry?

We should always keep in mind that Masonic degrees are not historical fact; even though the ritual itself has its own history. Nor is the Bible itself factual history, in the sense historians use that term today. No matter! Our Masonic rituals idealize moral lessons from the lore surrounding archetypal builders; and our symbolism is based on their tools. A Mason’s aim is not to learn history, or how to build structures, but to learn to know our true selves, and how to build a moral character based on brotherhood, relief and truth.

by Jeriel C. Smith

Reprinted by kind permission from the Southern California Research Lodge’s “Fraternal Review.”

The author is a member of South Pasadena Lodge No. 290 and Metropolitan Lodge No. 352. He is a member of Southern California Research Lodge No. 1005, where he serves at its Worshipful Master, and is the Editor-at-Large for its “Fraternal Review.”