FOR many Freemasons, the Flaming Sword is a common symbol used to guard the entrance to the Masonic Temple, wielded by the Tyler of the Lodge. This is a full-sized sword, unsharpened, carried by the guardian to denote the entrance to Masonic work is under his care and jurisdiction. What is a Flaming Sword, and what is its significance to Freemasons?
FROM Mackey’s Masonic Dictionary, we learn that the flaming sword is representative of the sword carried by the cherubim who guarded the entrance to the Tree of Life, in the Garden of Eden, and who also drove Adam and Eve from the Garden due to their transgressions. However, this may only be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the symbolism of the flaming sword.
“After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden Cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”– Genesis 3:24
However, this may only be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the symbolism of the flaming sword.
For a brief historical look, swords were first produced around 3300 B.C.E., in the Bronze Age, first being produced in the Middle East. They were created from the manufacture of bronze, and generally about two feet long (24 inches or 60 cm). The sword developed naturally from the knife (single sharp edge) and dagger (dual sharp edges.) Sword development in China was of a similar time period and shape, while the Indian sub-continent developed these weapons about 1500 years later. The weapon didn’t really gain prominence until the Iron Age and the early Medieval period in Europe, where it became more sophisticated and a more vivid symbol of potency and domination. During the 11th century, Normans developed the use of quillons or cross-guards, which also gave rise to its connection with Christian iconography (the Cross of the Christ.)
There is an existent short article on the history of the Tyler / Tiler’s Sword, with some of the same references as noted above, found here. I would like to add to some deeper background, looking beyond the traditional Christian traditional story to perhaps uncover some additional symbolism.
MUSPELHEIM is the home of the Fire Giants, in the Norse religion, and Surtr is the Guardian of this world. This realm is known as the “World Destroyers,” and Surtr, its guardian, is armed with a flaming sword. This sword features prominently in the creation and the destruction of the world, owing to the creative and destructive properties of fire. The sword is said to have created the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, the light-givers in Earth’s sky. The sword is also said to be the death of Freyr, who represents peace and fertility, and the sword also contributes to the destruction of Bifrost. Written prior to Christianity coming to Iceland, the story comes from the Poetic Edda, specifically the Voluspa. Sections can also be found in the Prose Edda.
“Surtr moves from the south, with the scathe of branches: there shines from his sword, the sun of Gods of the Slain.”– The Poetic Edda
In Ancient Sumeria, the god Asaruludu is noted as having a ‘flaming sword, ensuring the most perfect safety.’ He’s known as “light of the Gods” and the “Shining God who Lights our Path.” He has been seen as one of the gods who holds “the fate of man” and has been discovered in some Ancient Sumerian incantation manuscripts. In Ancient Hebrew texts, the sword appears to be related to two angels – Uriel and Jophiel, both having a similar import with regards to Truth, Wisdom, and Judgement. Additionally, according to Eastern Orthodox liturgy, the Flaming Sword placed by the unnamed cherubim, in the Garden of Eden, was removed after the Christ’s resurrection in order that humans may once again enter paradise.
THE Flaming Sword, more popular in literature than perhaps in actual use or fact, seems to be symbolically related to several key concepts, all appropriate to the office of the Tyler, or guardian of the Temple entrance. It may represent that only those that hold Truth or Wisdom may enter holy places or stand in the presence of that Truth. It also seems represent the power of that Truth, perhaps in the form of Spirit manifested in earthly realms by Fire.
In the light of the fire, it seems that impurities might be burnt away so that only what is “real” may be seen. In Freemasonic ritual, the Tyler’s place in the procession of members indicates that he is “lighting the path of the gods” and perhaps establishing that barrier, like the Norse believed, of creation and destruction. The Flaming Sword creates the sacred space and is also its destruction.
Swords also typically represent strength and virtue; it is a symbol of the strength of mind and clarity of reason. The Flaming Sword, with its addition of the fire element, indicates there is a living mind that oversees the actions of the universe. This living mind creates the ring-pass-not, the circumscribed ring of the material world, separating us from the rest of the manifested universe. Extrapolated, this indicates that the Lodge within the temple, as created by the procession of the Tyler, is a universe unto itself: as above, so below. Thus, the Tyler begins the process of establishing the Freemasonic ritual energetic boundary, as well as deconstructing it once the actual Lodge meeting is closed. In this way, the Tyler is unique in that he is separated from the ritual workings, but uniquely responsible for their beginning and their ending.