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.