The symbolism that is seen in the decoration and furnishing of the Masonic lodge, and shown during the ceremonies, are there to remind the Freemason of the Ideals of the Craft. From his entry in the Craft the Mason is told to live by the principles of Brotherly Love, Relief (that is Charity and Philanthropy), and Truth. He must also practice the four virtues of Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice, and to be known for his qualities of Virtue, Honour and mercy. Through the ceremonies of the three Craft degrees he is told to maintain his faith in God, to keep his hope in salvation, and to practice Charity with his fellow men. He is then assumed to understand God’s creation by understanding the “hidden mysteries of nature and Science” through the study of the seven liberal arts and sciences: Grammar, Rhetoric, logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy. He is also enjoined to maintain his honour at all times, and to display fortitude in the face of death, placing his faith in immortality.
All these principles are presented to the Masons in symbolic form in the decoration of the lodge, in the diagram for each degree on the Tracing Board, and in the working tools of the operative Masonry that are used symbolically in the ceremonies. The most important symbols are the three pillars of Wisdom, Strength and Beauty that represent the divine omniscience and omnipotence, as well as the symmetry and order of God’s creation. They are displayed in the lodge in material form as Ionic, Doric and Corinthian columns and, figuratively, in the persons of the Worshipful Master and his Senior and Junior Wardens. They are always present when the lodge is open.
In normal life the Mason is inspired by the principles he has been told to follow and by the teaching of the Craft. The ideals of the Craft are always present in all his acts.
Wisdom is seeing life simply and clearly. Many great men, who were also Freemasons, show clearly that they were, above all, “Wise Men”. As an example we can remember Benjamin Franklin who prepared the ideological ground for the American Revolution, Samuel Houston who fought for the freedom of Texas, George Washington the head of the Army during the Revolution as well as the First American President, Churchill and Roosevelt the main actors of the defeat of Nazi Germany, George Marshall and Harry Truman who worked so hard to rebuild Europe after the Second World War, as well as many writers and artists.
Great authors of the past like J.W. von Goethe (1749-1832), who wrote Faust, was a Freemason, and one of the founder of the modern German literature. Schiller too joined the Craft. As Mircea Eliade said, “in philosophical terms, initiation is equivalent to a basic change in existential condition: the novice emerges of the ordeal a totally different being from the one he was before his initiation; he has become “another”. The ritual dramas that constitute the three ceremonies of Craft Masonry are part of a single initiation, as only after completing the three degrees does an initiate becomes a full Master Mason. It is also clear that the ritual is more moral than religious as Freemasonry is not a religion, even if it has religious basis, but a fraternity dedicated to teaching social concepts and promoting the three ideals of brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. The symbolic myth is one of death in the cause of honour, and not of death and resurrection.
Those who created Freemasonry, as it is known to day, made it clear that it was not a religion, or a substitute for it, and in this they showed Wisdom. The only religious request for membership was a belief in God as the Supreme Being. All religious discussions are prohibited in the lodge, leaving the Craft open to all men of goodwill independently of their religion. As a result the Craft is tolerant towards religion, accepting among the members Protestant and Catholic Christians, Arab, Jews, Hindu and Moslem. In countries with a dominant religion, when the leader was also a Freemason, religious and political tolerance improved.
Wisdom, in short, means the constant striving towards the good and the understanding of the views of others. Wisdom implies bringing changes towards what is noble and true in religion, politics, and moral or in the social life. The Craft and its principles are a mean of transcending social, political and religious divisions and to lead to stability. (9)
The choice of the building of King Solomon’s temple as the central point of the allegorical ritual drama of the Craft was not surprising due to its symbolism. It also provides opportunities for imaginative embellishment and development. It is easy to use it to represent the moral regeneration of the individual, and the moral aims of the Craft, as it is a universal symbol of the building of the spiritual temple within. The tools of the stonemason, too, symbolise the qualities essential to the perfection of the inner temple, as these tools have been used to build the Temple at Jerusalem, as well as the great Gothic cathedrals and the modern ones such as St. Paul Cathedral in London. Their beauty, evident to all of us, is balanced by the strength shown by their massive walls and columns. The stonemasons who built them were justly proud of their work, and they tried to leave a personal mark on their stones. Their techniques were jealously kept secret, partly to avoid poor imitations by unqualified workers, but also to ensure that the structures on which they spent their working life truly mirrored their spiritual purpose. There is little doubt that the same dedication that inspired the Craftsmen who built Solomon’s Temple, inspired also the Speculative Masons of the eighteenth century who were their spiritual heirs as well as those genius, like Isaac Newton and Sir Christopher Wren, who preceded them before the founding of the first Grand Lodge. Their views of Solomon’s Temple were based on their study of the Bible, but the Temple itself was seen as a cosmic symbol with a great spiritual significance that they tried to convey to others. When building their temples the masons looked to the past, to the classical and Hebrew models, but also to the Egyptian temples.
A Mason, Frédérick Auguste Bartholdi designed the Statue of Liberty in New York City, to celebrate the centenary of the American Revolution (although it was inaugurated in 1886). It was mainly financed by American and French Masons to promote Liberty and free men from their chains of tyranny and ignorance, some basic principles of Freemasonry. Freemasons distinguished themselves in war too. As example we can mention: George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette in the American Revolution; The Duke of Wellington who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815; Simon Bolivar in South America; Giuseppe Garibaldi in Italy; Theodore Roosevelt in Cuba; Field Marshal Haig, Marshall Joffre and General Pershing in World War I; Audie Murphy, Douglas MacArthur, Omar Bradley, Mathew Ridgeway in World War II. In the medical field we also have great Masons: Edward Jenner from England who introduced vaccination in 1796; the Scot Alexander Flemming who discovered the penicillin in 1928; the German Samuel Hahnenann who introduced the treatment known as homeopathy.
In the field of transportation, Freemasons have been innovative too. Shillibeer pioneered the London omnibus and John Macadam revolutioned the way to build roads. Robert Fulton, a great engineer, built the first steam boat in 1807 and went on constructing a submarine as well as the first steam-powered American warship, although the first steamship was built by another Freemason, John Fitch in 1785. Joseph Michel and Jacques Etienne Montgolfier operated the first hot-air balloon in 1783. Lieutenant Arthur Brown piloted the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic in 1919, Captain Edward Rickenbacker was an ace pilot in the World War I and later developed civil aviation, and Charles Lindbergh flew alone across the Atlantic in 1927. George Pullman improved the comfort of the railways in introducing in 1863 the first carriages that still bear his name. Henry Ford built the first popular car -the Model T- from 1892, and he founded the Ford Company to build them. Finally eight of the first American Astronauts were members of the Craft, including John Glenn and Edwin Aldrin.
Other prominent Masons are Charles Spahr who built the Trans-Alaska pipeline and Cornélius Hedges that is partly responsible for the creation of the Yellowstone National Park; Meriwether Lewis and William Clark explored the West of the USA in 1803-1806 and Zebulon Pikes discovered the source of the Mississippi and some mountains in Colorado. The Scot James Bruce discovered the source of the Blue Nil in 1770 and Sir Richard Burton participated in the expedition that discovered the source of the Nile. Robert Peary who first reached the North Pole in 1909, Sir Ernest Shacketon the great Antarctic explorer, Captain Robert falcon Scott who lost the race to the South Pole and Admiral Richard Byrd who flew above both poles in 1926 and 1929 were all Freemasons.
Other Masons invented useful and commonly used devices: Samuel Colt invented his famous “revolver” and other arms; King Gillette invented the safety razor; Frank G. Hoover made the vacuum cleaner of common use.
Beauty, the third pillar of Freemasonry, represents the perfected Soul quality that every Mason should manifest in himself, and in every aspect of his life. The keywords for Beauty are Balance and Harmony. Balance between force and form, coupled with awareness, produces joy and fulfilment, the spiritual experience of Beauty. Harmony relies on the perfect proportion of its several parts and leads to Unity. In Arts, beauty is subjective, but conditional on each individual’s subconscious understanding of the laws of Harmony and proportion.
When a Mason enters the Porch of the Temple, between the pillars of Strength and Wisdom and of force and form, he experiences the Pillar of Beauty in all its Glory, and he becomes one with all his initiated brethren. It is a living Temple built from the enlightened Souls of Man. Masonry is the story of the transformation of the Soul, and the ritual of its ceremonies is an allegory of that journey that all Masons must make to achieve their higher potential.
The principles of the Craft have always inspired men to become great artists, poets, musicians, architects and philosophers and, in this way, they have created Beauty. Soul qualities are not inherited but won by each individual who wants to return to his Creator. (9)