The Two-Headed Eagle of The Ancient and Accepted Rite

The Two-Headed Eagle of The Ancient and Accepted Rite

By Bro... W. J. Chetwode Crawley

The most ornamental, not to say the most ostentatious feature of the Insignia of the Supreme Council, 33° of the Ancient and Accepted [Scottish] Rite, is the double-headed eagle, surmounted by an Imperial Crown. This device seems to have been adopted sometime after 1758 by the grade known as the Emperors of the East and West: a sufficiently pretentious title. This seems to have been its first appearance in connection with Freemasonry, but the history of the High Grades has been subjected such distortion that it is difficult to accept unreservedly any assertion put forward regarding them. From this Imperial grade, or with this Imperial grade, the Two-headed Eagle came to the “Sovereign Prince Masons” of the Rite of Perfection. This Rite of Perfection with its Twenty-five Degrees was amplified in 1801, at Charleston, U.S.A., into the Ancient and Accepted Rite of Thirty-three Degrees, with the Double-headed Eagle for its most distinctive emblem.

When this emblem was first adopted by the High Degrees, it had been in use as a symbol of power for five thousand years, or so. No heraldic bearing, no emblematic device in wear to-day, can boast such antiquity. It was in use a thousand years before the Exodus from Egypt, and more than two thousand years before the Building of King Solomon’s Temple.

The story of our Eagle bas been told by the eminent Assyriologist, M. Thureau Dangin, in the volume of Zeitschriftfür Assyrliologie, 1904. Among the most important discoveries for which we are indebted to the late M. de Sarzec, were two large terra-cotta cylinders, covered with many hundred lines of archaic cuneiform characters. These cylinders were found in the brick mounds of Tello, which has been identified, with certainty, as the City of Lagash, the dominant center of Southern Babylonia, ere Babylon had imposed its name and rule on the country. The cylinders are now in the Louvre, and have been deciphered by M. Thureau-Dangin, who displays to our wondering eyes an emblem of power that was already centuries old when Babylon gave its name to Babylonia.1

 The cylinder in question is a Foundation Record, deposited by one Gudea, Ruler of the City of Lagash, to mark the building of a Temple, about the year 3000 B.C., as nearly as the date can be fixed. The Foundation Record was deposited just as our medals, coins, and metallic plates are deposited to-day, when a Corner-stone is laid with Masonic Honors. It must be borne in mind that in this case, the word Corner-stone can be employed only in a conventional sense, for, in Babylonia, all edifices, Temples, Palaces, and Towers alike, were built of brick. But the custom of laying Foundation Deposits was general, whatever the building material might be, and we shall presently see what functions are attributed, by another eminent scholar, to the Foundation Chamber of King Solomon’s Temple.

The contents of the inscription are of the utmost value to the Oriental scholar, but may be briefly dismissed for our present purpose.

Suffice it to say, that the King begins by reciting that a great drought had fallen upon the land. “The waters of the Tigris,” he says, “fell low and the store of provender ran short in this my City,” so that he feared it was a visitation from the Gods, to whom he determined to submit his evil case and that of his people. The reader familiar with the Babylonian methods that pervade the Books of the Captivity, will not be surprised to learn that the King dreamed a dream, in which the will of the Gods was revealed by direct, personal intervention and interlocution. In the dream there came unto the King “a Divine Man, whose stature reached from earth to heaven, and whose head was crowned with the crown of a God surmounted by the Storm Bird that extended its wings over Lagash, and the land thereof.” This Storm Bird, no other than our Double-headed Eagle, was the Totem, as ethnologists and anthropologists are fain to call it, of the mighty Sumerian City of Lagash, and stood proudly forth the visible emblem of its power and dominion.

This Double-headed Eagle of Lagash is the oldest Royal Crest in the world. As time rolled on, it passed from the Sumerians to the men of Akhad, from the men of Akhad to the Hittites, from the denizens of Asia Minor to the Seljukian Sultans, from whom it was brought by Crusaders to the Emperors of the East and West, whose successors to-day are the Hapsburgs and the Romanoffs, as well as to the Masonic “Emperors of the East and West,” whose successors to-day are the Supreme Councils, 33°, that have inherited the insignia of the Rite of Perfection.

Such is the accredited account of the successive flights by which the Double-headed Eagle winged its way from the Tigris to the Danube and the Neva. But it is quite possible that when the Mediaeval Warriors brought home the Storm Bird, they brought it to that nest not for the first time. We have said above that Lagash was the center of a Sumerian people in the year 3000 B.C. It has been established that the Sumerians were an Iranian people, quite distinct from the warlike men of Akhad, who were of Semitic descent. Sometime after the year 2800 B.C., the fiery men of Akhad squeezed out the Iranians, and Babylonia became to all intents and purposes a Semitic Kingdom for the time. The Sumerians appear to have followed the Iranian line of migration westwards and, very likely, brought with them the remembrance of their guardian Bird of the olden time. Hence, the Storm Bird from Mesopotamia, with its double-head and outstretched wings, may not have seemed altogether strange to the Slavs, or the Teutons, or the Celts whose dim ancestry may have dwelt beside the Tigris. The emblem may have appealed to some vague sub-conscious inheritance of the kind that latter-day psychologists stigmatize as vestigial retro-reminiscence. Verily, the nomenclature is germane to “that blessed word Mesopotamia.”

Reverting to the text of the inscribed cylinder, we gather that the Master of the Storm Bird was appeased by the King undertaking to build him a Temple, and in response to the King’s petition inspired him and his builders with a Heaven-born plan. A ‘similar celestial origin is ascribed, commonly enough, to the more magnificent Temples of the Ancient East; for instance, to the great Temple of Horus at Edfu, built by the Pharaoh, under direct inspiration of the god Im-Hotep.2

But this particular revelation to Gudea is noteworthy, because the circumstances of the revelation bear a strong family resemblance to those of the disclosure of the dimensions of the Tabernacle to Moses on Mount Sinai, as described in Exodus xxv., et seq. The cuneiform text is opportunely illustrated on this point by the discovery of a fine basalt statue of Gudea, buried for ages in the same mounds of Lagash. He is represented in the sitting posture common to Oriental statues of Great Monarchs, and he holds on his knees what is now plainly seen to be a draughtsman’s tablet, with the design inscribed on it, while hard by are the graver’s tools and scale: for all the world like a Tracing-board, Gauge, Skirret and Pencil of to-day. The mise-en-scène has an indefinable resemblance to the Frontispieces with which the engravers of the eighteenth century were wont to decorate the Pocket Companion and similar books.

The cuneiform inscription goes on to describe the ceremony of laying the cornerstone, with a thousand details of inestimable value to the archaeologist, but in no way bearing on the story of the Double-headed Eagle.

These things came to pass, under the wings of the Storm Bird, in Lagash of the Sumerians, and were there written down, more than a thousand years before Abram, the Hebrew, dwelt in Ur of the Chaldees.


1 Zeitschriftfür Assyriology Strasburg…, 1904: vol.xviii, p. 119; Le Cylindre de Gu-de-a, par Fr. Thureau-Dangin.

The old temple at Edfu, built for the worship of Horus, son of Kneph and Athor, was explored by Mariette Bey, and is reputed to contain an inscribed tablet or slab, on which is delineated a geometrical approximation to the ratio of the diameter to the circumference. Scientific readers will understand the ages upon ages that must have intervened between the dawn of geometrical conceptions and the period at which such a constant could begin to appear practicable, or desirable, or even conceivable.

* Orginally published in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum. vol. xxiv (1911) Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076. pp. 21-24.

The Symbolism of the Cube: Why is it both Qabalistic and Masonic?

The Symbolism of the Cube: Why is it both Qabalistic and Masonic?

Symbols can often have double or multiple interpretations, ranging from the obvious exoteric meanings to the more esoteric ideas understood by a few. Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes can be found the hidden knowledge.  Symbols conceal as much, or more, than they reveal.

Where does the masonic cube fall on this continuum? How did the hidden knowledge of the mystical qabalah influence its use in Freemasonry?

To start with, what is Qabalah? It’s difficult to define with a phrase. Even after a few decades of study I don’t think I can come up with a definition. How can you describe the indescribable?

Perhaps one could say the Qabalah is a mystical symbolic system of looking at the microcosm and macrocosm from the standpoint of the Creator. For a qabalist, there is nothing in life that is not interesting; the speck of dust on the ground, the glowing nebulas in the heavens, and the tiny living cell — all these have their message and tell a story of the Creator.

Can masons relate to this? Of course. That is why most of the early 18th century English ritualists were acquainted with the qabalistic teachings. Since many of them studied the qabalah while the masonic rituals were being written, it was likely a source for many of the signs, symbols and allegories of Freemasonry. Brother Albert Pike 33° indexed over seventy entries to the subject of qabalah in his book Morals and Dogmacabala21

The book indicates that the more you study the hidden meanings (or occult), it becomes clearer and clearer that everywhere in the universe, at every conceivable point in space, there is a Consciousness, which expresses through what is visible and invisible.

Pike tells us that:

“Qabalah is the key of the occult sciences.”

The qabalists used models such as the Tree of Life, The 32 Paths of Wisdom and the Cube of Space to describe the plan and processes of creation. The cube is especially significant to the themes of freemasonry. How, so?

The Qabalist’s Cube of Formation

Perhaps a good place to start is the Book of Formation or Sefer Yetzirah. It is one of the oldest treatises on qabalistic philosophy that concerns itself with the Divine creative process. It describes how the Creator literally thought and spoke everything into existence, and continues to do so. The type of creation that it shows proceeds through manipulation of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

I am always in awe of the Sefer Yetzirah whose short verses can easily conceal its depth and complexity. The seeming simplicity is only a taste of its mystery. The premise is that everything in the universe is directed by intelligence. The scheme of life and activity that we call evolution is in accordance with a Plan made by a Master Mind or Great Architect. Final Cube Sepher Yetzirah

Everything is considered to be constructed of the Hebrew letters, or at least the forces they represent. The three Hebrew Mother letters (Aleph, Mem, Shin) corresponded to the three simple letters to form the name Jah (IHV).

From Verse II of The Sepher Yetzirah:

He looked above, and sealed the Height with (IHV)
He looked below and sealed the Depth with (IVH)
He looked forward, and sealed the east with (HIV)
He looked backward, and sealed the west with (HVI)
He looked to the right, and sealed the south with (VIH)
He looked to the left and sealed the north with (VHI)

Brother Paul Foster Case, scholar and Freemason, popularized the Sepher Yetzirah through his concept of the Cube of Space using the verses in Chapters IV and V to add the tarot keys and astrological correspondences. It alludes to defining the boundaries of our perceptions. Quite a remarkable diagram, indeed!

The Divine Mind conceives the archetypal form, and then it exists in the world of ideas. A long process of human evolution has to take place before the ideal can be manifested in form, and the soul in full consciousness can achieve the archetypal form.

Some might look at the diagram and say, “so what!” Why does it matter for a Freemasonblack-background-1468370534d5s_1 (1) work with these archetypal ideas, specifically the cube?

The Freemason’s Perfect Stone 

One possible reason is that archetypal themes underlie many of the masonic rituals. It is no coincidence that the form of a masonic lodge is a symbolic cube.

Freemason Albert G. Mackey writes:

“The lodge or collected assemblage of masons, is adopted as a symbol of the world. The solid contents of the earth below and the expanse of the heavens above give the outlines of the cube, and the whole created universe will be included within the symbolic limits of a mason’s lodge.”

In Revelation Chapter 21, the new Jerusalem is described as a perfect cube: “The plan of the city is perfectly square, its length the same as its breadth.” Also, the room known as the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem was constructed in the shape of a cube. In the center of the room was the Ark of the Covenant that contained the Scroll of the Law.

The candidate in a masonic lodge symbolically represents one of the stones used in the construction of King Solomon’s Temple. The ritual portrays the shaping, testing and laying of that stone. Ultimately, the moral and spiritual preparation that he must undergo is to become a “living stone” in the heavenly temple.

Brother Manly Hall says:

“The perfect cube represents the personality that has had all the unevenness, roughness, and inequality polished away by experience. Such a stone is ready to become a block in the Everlasting House not built by hands but eternal in the heavens.”

If left to our own devices, our evolution and progress would be infinitesimal. But fortunately, we have teachers and perfected individuals of past ages to guide us to be perfect stones. Instead of using the working tools to build a physical structure out of stone and mortar, a speculative mason uses these same tools symbolically for spiritual, moral and intellectual development. finaltumblr_inline_nxatcedBV71riiuei_500_1 (2)

In the end, what does the symbol of the cube offer? I believe it is archetypal concepts that help all of us connect with something larger. Are we not all just sculptors? Writing our own books of creation? “Becoming” perfect cubes?

“A block of marble, deep within the quarry lies. Hidden within it lies likewise a form of beauty rare. The sculptor works, patterning true to that which lies revealed unto the inner sight. He patterns true and beauty comes to life.”

– Brother Alice Bailey

The Sun as a Symbol in Freemasonry: What is it trying to tell us?

The Sun as a Symbol in Freemasonry: What is it trying to tell us?

“There is nothing so indestructible as a symbol, but nothing is capable of so many interpretations.”  –  Count Goblet d’Alviella

What does a symbol have to do with you or me? Well, it’s possible that it doesn’t have anything to do with us.  On the other hand, the meaning behind a symbol just might be pretty significant. To know what a symbol means (or at least what we think they means) is one of the important speculative studies in Freemasonry. The teachings of the craft are said to be “illustrated by symbols.”

What are symbols? The definition of a symbol is something that represents something else through resemblance or association.  As the well-known saying goes, a picture tells a thousand words! There are everyday symbols and then there are the more universal and esoteric symbols which we are mainly concerned with as Freemasons.

Esoteric symbols are those with a hidden meaning. They have been used throughout time in the great spiritual traditions to guide seekers after truth. Esoteric symbols both conceal and reveal the truth.

For example, I consider myself to be a seeker of truth.  The other day, I chanced upon the following passage about the esoteric symbol of the sun.  It set me thinking on a number of different levels:

“The blazing star, or glory in the center, refers us to the sun, which enlightens the earth with its refulgent rays, dispensing its blessings to mankind at large and giving light and life to all things here below.” – Masonic Lectures

little23915567_706115002931639_2286788907160304511_nWhat are we to make of this statement? Why would the blazing star, usually depicted as a five-pointed star, be a symbol of a sun, too?  And if it is, what is different about this sun?

While the answers to these questions remain a mystery, some of us may know that the blazing star makes its appearance in several of the masonic degrees, and the pieces to the puzzle reveal more of the secrets at each stage.

How, then, do you study a symbol? How do you know if what you are interpreting is truth?

A Symbol: Exoteric, Conceptual, and Esoteric

I have found with symbols, it’s possible to go overboard with analysis.  Especially as Freemasons, we love to “speculate.”  We open the whole thing for scrutiny and dissect every little piece to see where it leads.  We use lots of words while trying to nail things down: “This means this” and “that means that.”

Unfortunately, in my opinion, when we over-analyze, especially early on, we may unintentionally rob the symbol of its power. In the end, we may have analyzed it to death.

The good news.

resizedimages (1)The process of symbolic analysis, while wrought with paradox, is actually doing something beneficial to the mind.  The best summary of this idea I found in a theosophical article of the Beacon Magazine (1939) written by Alice Bailey. The article details how the mind is actually being trained when we study symbolism.

Bailey gives three ways that a mind can analyze any symbol.

  1. Exoterically: This concerns the concrete or objective appearance, its form and structure.
  2. Conceptually: This concerns the concept or idea which the sign or symbol embodies.
  3. Esoterically: This concerns the energy or feeling that you register from the symbol.

Studying a symbol in three ways, she says, is activating the mental mechanism on all three levels: concrete mind (exoteric), higher mind or reasoning (conceptual) and the intuitional mind (esoteric). The goal is to arrive at a synthetic concept.

Why does the process matter?  Bailey says that practical work with symbols over time serves to bring a student closer to truth.  It lifts an individual out of their emotions; it develops clarity of perception; it energizes the mental life; it shifts the focus and attention and consciousness out of the world of illusion into the world of ideas.   How then could Freemasons apply this technique?

Let’s take an example.

Freemasonry: The Point within a Circle 

bigcircumpunct-symbolThe sun is often symbolized by a symbol called the circumpunct.  For those of you who’ve read the novel by Dan Brown called The Lost Symbol, you probably are familiar with what a circumpunct is.  For those who aren’t familiar, it’s simply a point within a circle.

There are hundreds of things the circumpunct can represent, anywhere from the “Eye of God” to the “Google Chrome” icon that I use to launch my search engine.  Using the Bailey technique, the circumpunct could be studied and reflected upon by an inquiring student and hopefully, after a little while, reveal a synthetic understanding of what it means.

Freemasons for centuries have taken a stab at analyzing the circumpunct.

W.L. Wilmshurst, for example, says this:

 “As the sun is the centre and life-giver of our solar system and controls and feeds with life the planets circling round it, so at the secret centre of individual human life exists a vital, immortal principle, the spirit and the spiritual will of man. This is the faculty, by using which (when we have found it) we can never err.”

In other words, Wilmshurst (and many other masonic scholars) see the point within a circle to be where we, as Freemasons, stand.  It is the point from which we cannot err. The point is timeless, eternal, subjective, immeasurable, invisible, absolute. For these reasons, it is often attributed to Deity and the Sun.

big Slades masonic manAs Freemasons, the study of symbols helps us to make sense of ourselves in relation to the universe. Planetary symbols such as the sun, moon, stars, and blazing stars inspire the contemplative mind to soar aloft and read the wisdom, strength and beauty of the Great Creator in the heavens. They challenge us to dig deeper on matters of eternal significance.

Sun or blazing star?  I’ve learned there seems to be a certain humility in recognizing that we may never fully understand a symbol in a complete way, one that allows us to cross it off the list and totally explain its meaning.

How do you know if what you interpret in symbols is true? Perhaps the better question might be:

Where is it true?

If I may,

“Truth is within ourselves. It takes no rise

From outward things, whate’er you may believe.

There is an inmost centre in ourselves,

Where truth abides in fullness…

– Robert Browning

Note: The last image is an engraving by Alexander Slade dated 1754,  titled “A Free Mason Form’d Out of the Material of his Lodge.” For further study, see the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library.


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