THE PLANTS AND ANIMALS OF FREEMASONRY
    
By Bro. Nigel D. Brown


    
Bro. Brown wrote a paper for Quatuor Coronati Lodge #2076 printed in Vol. 104, 1991 Transactions. This STB is extracted from the longer article. -Editor

     There are many reasons why a lodge has a particular name. Many inns or taverns have borne and still bear names which are wholly or partially those of plants and animals. Three of our founding lodges in 1717 were meeting at such houses in London: the 'Goose and Gridiron', the 'Apple-Tree' and the 'Rummer and Grapes'.
     It would take too much time and space to list the present-day lodges which have either inherited from such sources or have chosen for themselves a name associated with a plant or an animal. Some are: Oak, Walnut Tree, Arboretum on the one hand; Beehive, Lion, Swan on the other, these are but instances.

     More Ancient than the Golden Fleece or Roman Eagle

     It should not be forgotten that an eagle is mentioned in Craft ritual, albeit the 'Roman Eagle', when discussing the antiquity or a freemason's badge. This derivation comes from the emblem carried by the early kings of Rome--an ivory scepter surmounted by an eagle. This was later incorporated into the banner of the legions of the Roman Empire.

     The Golden Fleece of classical mythology was the skin of a wondrous ram, guarded by a sleepless dragon. Jason and his Argonauts went after this prize.The journey was long and perilous but the dauntless heroes persevered and, after a series of adventures, eventually reached their journey's end to win the ultimate prize of their age. This timeless legend, which can be read as an allegory of life, contrasts vividly with the relatively modern Order of the Golden Fleece which was created by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy in 1429, at the time when he was ruling the Netherlands. In 1504 the Spanish Hapsburgs took over the country and the Order. In 1713, however it was newly instituted as an Austrian honour.
 

     The Dove and Olive Branch

     Of all fauna and flora related to a Craft lodge the dove and its olive branch are probably the most commonly seen. With few exceptions this is the emblem of the Deacons. It is when they are invested with their collars and jewels that 'the dove bearing an olive branch' has its only place in the ritual. The same emblem appears on top of a Deacon's wand.

     The symbolism originates from Holy Scripture, where we read that a dove was released from the Ark by Noah, but 'found no rest for the sole of her foot and she returned; the second time she came back and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off', while the third time she 'returned not again unto him.' (Genesis 8:8-12). In this way, the dove and its olive branch carry the dual symbolism of the messenger (from the dove) as well as purity, peace and innocence (from the olive branch).

     The fruit of the olive tree is also connected with Masonic ritual in that its oil was used to pay certain of the workmen employed in the construction of King Solomon's Temple. It is also used in the Consecration of a new lodge, as the symbol of peace and unity.

     The Acacia

     There is a good deal of confusion over the shrub associated with the discovery of Hiram's grave but it is most probable that it would have been cassia and not acacia. The cassia plant (one species is Cassia acutifolio) was introduced into Europe in the early eighteenth century at the time when the ritual was developing. Samuel Prichard's Masonry Dissected (1730) and Anderson's 1738 Constitutions both mention cassia rather than acacia in relation to the grave. On the other hand the available French sources indicate that they had already settled for 'a thorny branch called acacia'. We cannot be precise as to when the change began but at the Union of 1813 it was settled that acacia should be the word for ritual use and, eventually, cassia was seen no more.

     It is worth mentioning that Acacia scyal is the Shittah (plural Shittim)of Exodus 25:10, the wood from which the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle were constructed.

     To some the Cassia is 'the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil' and 'the Tree of the Serpent'. The Egyptians revered the acacia and used it to make funeral wreaths. Legend connects it, with other plants, to the wood of the cross of Christ, his crown of thorns and the burning bush. There are many aspects to the symbolism of acacia and, with other plants, e.g., rosemary, box, myrtle and willow, it reflects a belief in resurrection. Phoenix Lodge of Honor and Prudence, in its unique ritual, refers to acacia as signifying innocence or freedom from sin. It appears to bloom and flourish in its place as if to say: '0, Death, where is thy sting? 0, Grave where is thy victory?' and it thereby symbolizes immortality.

     A Necessity of Life

     Corn, with wine and oil, was a weekly wage for some of the workmen at King Solomon's Temple. In the Holy Land it would have been more likely that the grain was sorghum or millet (Sorghum vulgare or Panicum miliacemn) but a wide range of cereals was grown.

     'An ear of corn near to a fall of water' is the interpretation of the test-word used by the troops of Jephthah to distinguish the Ephraimites after the battle on the banks of the River Jordan. The Hebrew words (Sihlet-Shabioth) used to distinguish friend from foe have two meanings: 'a flood of water' (not a 'hill') and 'an ear of corn'. Corn is used in the ceremony of consecrating a new lodge as an emblem of plenty. Under the Netherlandic Constitution a sheaf of corn stands in the lodge and seeds of the grain are cast for a different reason; as the ripe corn proves the germinal force of the sown seed so, in the same way, the life of a Master Mason should bear witness to the strength of the supreme principle which he is upholding.

     Enriched with ... Lilywork and Pomegranates

     Both lilywork and pomegranates are named in the Bible in descriptions of the pillars outside the Temple (I Kings: 7 and 2 Chronicles: 3). The pomegranate (Punica granatlim) was widely grown in the Middle East in those days and it does indeed produce a large number of seeds. There are several references in the Bible and perhaps most interestingly is one in the Old Testament (Exodus 28:33). Here the robes of the ephod (of Aaron and other priests) were of blue and 'upon the hem of it thou should make pomegranates of blue, and of purple and of scarlet.

     The most likely flower adopted for the lilywork is the Egyptian Lotus. This was a sacred plant among Egyptians which they used to symbolize the River Nile, the giver of life (because their livelihood depended on its >annual flooding). It is a water-lily, Nyniphaca lotus, with pink flowers that fade to white. Pomegranates and the lotus were commonly used (together) in Egyptian architectural designs and this style spread to the surrounding nations. It has been suggested that King Solomon's Temple was based on Phoenician designs for these, in turn, had been derived from the Egyptian pattern. Hiram Abif, the superintendent of casting, was a Phoenician through his father's marriage to an Israelite. It is therefore likely that the lilywork and pomegranates stemmed from Egypt. The white colour of the lilies, however, was probably introduced to reflect the white of religious tradition. White lily-work denoting peace seems to be a purely Masonic idea.

     Industry in the Lodge

     The jewel of the Secretary is two pens in saltire tied by a ribbon. The pens are quills, i.e., made from the primary wing feathers of a bird. There is probably no deep meaning to be abstracted from this other than to remind us that the Secretary uses a pen for recording the work of his lodge.

     In a Masonic pamphlet written about 1725 and often attributed to Jonathan Swift, bees and a beehive are discussed. By the seventeenth century brethren they were considered an emblem of industry recommending the practice of that virtue to all created things from the highest seraph in Heaven to the lowest reptile in the dust.' The beehive was regularly seen as a Masonic symbol from the middle of the eighteenth century onwards, on tracing boards, certificates, jewels, glass and pottery. The Lodge of Emulation (now No.21) adopted it as its emblem more than two centuries ago and still uses it. But, at the Union of 1813, it was one of several symbols (others were the hourglass, the scythe and the ark) which were abandoned. It remains, however, as an emblem in Scottish Craft Freemasonry and many American rituals preserve explanations that had at one time been current in England.

     Conclusion

     The genuine symbols of our Masonic Craft are there for all to see. It is often a good thing for each brother to contemplate them and, having done so, to work out his own interpretations and this I have to some extent practiced for myself{ We all, of course, learn much from the ritual explanations and can if we so desire turn to the writings of those who have made a particular study of symbolism. My own experience, as I have committed myself to paper, is that our symbols, in providing visual reminders of the lessons learned in lodge, enable a freemason to carry those lessons into and so enrich his daily life.
 

 

         

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