The Lost Word – The “Holy Grail” of Freemasonry: Some Implications
By Kerry A. Shirts M.M., Eagle Rock Lodge 19
By Kerry A. Shirts M.M., Eagle Rock Lodge 19
Idaho Falls, Idaho (April 23, 2010)
The idea of a lost word, needing recovered is a fascinating Psychological touch. This paper doesn’t seek to explain the psychology, as such, but to explore some of the etymological and mythical, historical and legendary implications of this fascinating theme.
The lost word is a lost treasure, exactly as the Holy Grail is, and it is in the seeking it that one grows, learns, experiences, and eventually discovers. The theme is discovering the Divine. It has the idea of a treasure hunt for adults. And that is not to be taken lightly, because it is a very real treasure the lost word represents. The entire point of the lost word is that each of us must make “…every effort must be made to recover it.” The word has power. The word is the “Holy Grail” of Freemasonry, exactly as its recovery is the significance of the search for the Holy Grail is. This is how many ancient societies viewed this fascinating theme. Showing the ancient parallels does not demonstrate direct descent, nor do I claim to do this. What we do learn is the understanding of the ancients with the power of the word is certainly a theme Freemasonry also has, uses, and enjoys. It is the quest for the “Holy Grail” of Masonry. It is, a most singular fact that, even the grail was thought to be a book, among other things, an accumulation of words.
Words of power were associated with the Divine in ancient Egypt. One purpose of having “The Word,” or “words” of power was to “enable him safely to pass the guards.” “Hecataeus says that the Egyptians used the word ‘Amen’ as the ‘word of power.’” With respect to the secret word, “What is it? It is a Cabalistic Word.” Galileo said the most remarkable, miraculous invention ever made was the alphabet. “So the Sefer Yetzirah teaches that without words and letters ‘the universe would cease to exist.’ Every existing thing somehow contains these linguistic elements and exists by their power. Can’t creation be done in silence? Who started this language business? It is the mystery of the word. The Sefer Yetzirah has much to say about the seven gates, [an important number symbolism in Masonry] the sensory passages through which all impressions enter the mind to be digested and formulated. The only way these can be shared between individuals is through a single projector, the mouth. This doctrine meets us in the Memphite theology [from the ancient Egyptian Shabako Stone], which explains that ‘every word of God came into being through what the heart devised and the tongue commanded.’”
In ancient Greek curses with “Words of Power,” they can have a double sided effect, for evil or for good. In a text from Phrygia, a blessing follows the imprecation “The good [you do] to me, god, [will give back] to you in double.” In the Jewish mystical text, the Bahir, we read “The glory of god is to hide a word… the glory of kings is to probe a word.” In the Gnostic work, “Pistis Sophia,” [ca 200-300 A. D.] we learn that “a mysterious word is associated with mingling of powers and a separation of “light from the Light.’” In the ancient Mysteries of Eleusis, as those of Dionysius or Bacchus, the initiate in the ceremony of admission was led to a dark chamber, “The mystical chapel,” and was questioned. Then a holy book was brought forward and placed between the two pillars and he was rewarded a vision. He was clothed in a sheep skin, the person opposite of him was called “the revealer of sacred things.” The lambskin [“sheep skin”] meant “primordial space, or the ‘great deep.’ It also means ‘the hidden or supreme spirit (ammon) and in Sanskrit one of its synonyms is ‘Aja,’ meaning ‘no birth, the self-existent, eternal, self sufficient cause of all.” The same theme of sacred revealers of truth and the word was in ancient Egyptian, identified with Thoth, “the universal intelligence, articulating creative sound. The universe is therefore sound made substantial. Thoth is the divine power that utters this sound. The articulate word and the voice were believed to be the most potent of creative forces.”
The theme seems obvious enough from many centers of antique religious, cultural, and mystical places and times. What of the “Lost Word” of Freemasonry? While it has connotations as those above, it is also fascinating to “probe” its meaning for Freemasonry as well. This “Word” is one such part of our heritage from antiquity.
“Speech as such is also important to Freemasons because of the way in which it announces presence. Unlike writing, speaking to another imparts a degree of personal intimacy and emotion in ways that writing cannot.” In Freemasonry, the “Lost Word” is substituted with another word, which, according to some think a Cabalistic word, a Divine word, a Gnostic word, a Hebrew or Scottish word, a Rosicrucian word, a word associated with Jachin and Boaz, the two pillars, or else associated with what is called the second insight, “the mysterious ability to foretell the future.”
Castells says “The Mason Word is older than the Hebrew nation itself, taking us back to a period far anterior to the Exodus…” He further notes that “The Freemasons speak of this Word as another Name for God.” He further noted that through the ancient Babylonian, back into Abraham’s day the sacred Word was had on a triangular plate of gold (reminding us of the Masonic Enoch legend of Enoch inscribing all the world’s knowledge on such a plate, then erecting two pillars to mark where he hid that metal plate in the ground so it was recoverable after the flood of Noah’s day).
Eric Ward explained that the creation was caused by God saying “Let there be light, and there was light,” the significance of which is that the writer of the Gospel of John [One of Freemasonry’s St.’s John] “condenses both the philosophies of the Egyptian sages and the writer of Genesis by elevating the word to a position where it has become not mere the most important function of the Creator, but a manifestation of him.” In conjunction with this theme, The Word that once existed, having surpassing value, was lost, so a temporary substitute was adopted in its place. “But as the very philosophy of Freemasonry teaches us that there can be no death without a resurrection – no decay without a subsequent restoration – on the same principle it follows that the loss of the Word must suppose its eventual recovery.” Mackay goes on to say “The Word, therefore, we conceive to be the symbol of divine truth; and all its modifications – the loss, the substitution, and the recovery – are but component parts for the mythical symbol which represents a search after truth.” Again, expanding yet further, “The Word, with its accompanying myth of a loss, a substitute, and a recovery, becomes a symbol of the personal progress of a candidate from his first initiation to the completion of his course, when he receives a full development of the Mysteries.” Though numerous and fascinating explorations into what the word was (I shall write a follow-up to this paper on these ingenious and fascinating themes), the real issue is, as Mackay unerringly pointed out, that “No matter what was the Word, no matter how it was lost, nor why a substitute was provided, nor when nor where it was recovered. These are all points of subsidiary importance, necessary , it is true, for knowing the legendary history, but not necessary for understanding the symbolism. The only term of the myth that is to be regarded in the study of its interpretation, is the abstract ideas of a word lost and afterwards recovered.” And why is this? Because, as Master Masons, we well know with old age, trials, sufferings, death, that the point is to, as Mackay regards our mission “pressing onward, always onward, still cries aloud for light, more light. The search is almost over, but the lesson, humiliating to human nature, is to be taught, that in this life – gloomy and dark, earthly and carnal – pure truth has no abiding place; and man is to be contented with a substitute, and to that second temple of eternal life, for that true Word, that Divine Truth, which will teach us all that we shall ever learn of God… this symbolic Word – this knowledge of Divine Truth – is never thoroughly attained in this life… a sublime portion of the Masonic system is a symbolic representation of the state after death.”
1. Alain Bernheim, “Did Early ‘High’ or Ecossais Degrees Originate in France?” in “Heredom: The Transactions of the Scottish Rite Research Society,” S. Brent Morris, editor, Vol 5 (1996):96.
2. Norma Lorre Goodrich, “The Holy Grail,” HarperCollins Publishers, 1992: xv.
3. Dr. Thomas Milton Stewart, “The Symbolism of the Gods of the Egyptians and the Light They Throw on Freemasonry,” Baskerville Press, 1927:40.
4. Stewart, “Ibid.,” p. 40.
5. Stewart, “Ibid.,” p. 66. He further says “Amen of the Egyptians as a ‘Word of Power’ connotes the same idea as does the mystic syllable ‘Aum’ of the Hindus. In the New Testament, Hebrews 1:3 we are told that by the ‘word opf His Power’ all things are upheld,” p. 67. These words of power are so that he can act and think in the spiritual world, p. 83.
6. W. Kirk MacNulty, “Kabbalah and Freemasonry,” in “Heredom: The Transactions of the Scottish Rite Research Society,” Vol. 7 (1998): 139.
7. Hugh Nibley, Michael D. Rhodes, “One Eternal Round,” Deseret Book/Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2010: 524.
8. J. H. M. Strubbe, “Cursed be he that moves my bones,” in “Magika Hiera: Ancient Greek Magic & Religion,” Edited by Christopher A. Faraone, Dirk Obbink, Oxford University Press, 1991: 42.
9. “The Bahir,” translated by Aryeh Kaplan, Samuel Weiser, 1st paperback, 1989: 18.
10. Ramona Fradon, “The Gnostic Faustus: The Secret Teachings Behind the Classic Text,” Inner Traditions, 2007: 82.
11. Hippolyto Joseph da Costa, “The Dionysian Artificers,” Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Co., 1936: in the section “Sketch for the History of the Dionysian Artificers: A Fragment,” p. 10.
12. Thomas Milton Stewart, “Symbolic Teaching or Masonry and its Message,” Stewart & Kidd Co., 1915: 20.
13. Jeremy Naydler, “Temple of the Cosmos: The Ancient Egyptian Experience of the Sacred,” Inner Traditions, 1996: 47.
14. Joshua Gunn, “The Importance of Speech,” in “Scottish Rite Journal of Freemasonry, Southern Jurisdiction,” March-April, (2010): 4.
15. Quote in Harry Carr, “Collection of Early References to the Mason Word,” in “Ars Quatuor Coronatorum,” Vol 85 (1972): 220. For Scottish word, see C. Bruce Hunter, “More Thoughts on the Origin of The Mason Word,” in “ The Philalethes, the Journal of Masonic Research and Letters,” August (2005): 86 – 89. For Hebrew, see also C. Bruce Hunter, “More Speculation About the Word,” in “The Philalethes,” June (2001): 54-56. For Gnostic word, see Sid Sowers, J. Ray Shure, “The Master’s Word is Lost,” in “Miscellanea,” (2008): 1-22, published by the Grand Council of the Allied Masonic Degrees of the United States of America. For the Word associated with Jachin and Boaz and Rabbinical thought, see F. De P. Castells, “The Genuine Secrets in Freemasory Prior to 1717,” pp. 216f.
16. Castells, “Ibid.,” pp. 216-223. He notes how the triple gods in the Babylonian pantheon, Anu, Bel, and Ea (or Yah) were an astronomical formula, still attested by the globes on the two pillars of Jachin and Boaz in Freemasonry, (p. 221). For interesting summation of the Masonic Enoch Legend, see Bobby Lynn Sheborn, “The Masonic Legend of Enoch,” in “The Philalethes,” February (2005): 10-12; and also see Barry Albin, “Revisiting Enoch,” in “The Philalethes,” April (2008): 29, 46-47.
17. Eric Ward, “In the Beginning Was the Word: An Exercise in Ritual Archaeology,” in “Ars Quatuor Coronatorum,” The Prestonian Lecture for 1971, Vol. 83 (1970): 303. Cf. F. De P. Castells, “The Genuine Secrets in Freemasory Prior to A. D. 1717,” A. Lewis Masonic Publishers, 1971: 216 – “God had created the world with certain words…”
18. “Mackay’s Symbolism of Freemasonry: Its Science, Philosophy, Legends, Myths, and Symbols,” Revised by Robert Ingham Clegg, The Masonic History Co., 6th print, 1960: 302.
19. Mackay, “Ibid.,” p. 305.
20. Mackay, “Ibid.,” p. 308.
21. Mackay, “Ibid.,” p. 303.
22. Mackay, “Ibid.,” p. 309-310.