Monday, December 10, 2007
METAL AND ITS SYMBOLISM
In recounting the basics of the First Degree Masonic ritual, William J. Whalen, in his book CHRISTIANITY AND AMERICAN FREEMASONRY, tells us that after the opening of the First Degree Lodge and the questioning of the candidate for initiation,
The candidate is now prepared for the first degree. He is instructed to remove his coat, shoes and stockings, and trousers and is divested of all metal articles: coins, watch, rings, etc. The Junior Deacon gives him a pair of trousers furnished by the lodge and asks him to put his left arm through the front of his shirt, exposing a bare arm and left breast. The Deacon then puts a blindfold (called a hoodwink) on the candidate, places a slipper on his right foot and loops a blue silk rope, called a cabletow, around his neck.(p. 24-25, emphasis mine)
Why the concern about metal?
The Grand Lodge of British Columbia explains the symbolism this way:
The requirement that a Candidate have no metal or money on his person has several layers of meaning. One is to emphasize the nature of Freemasonry as being opposed to violence and that the Candidate has nothing offensive or defensive on his person. Another is a reference to the building of the first Temple of Solomon, where no metallic tool was used. Yet another is that money cannot be used to purchase membership in Freemasonry. Metal was considered in ancient times to be the gifts of the Gods of the Underworld, useful, but limited and inherently dangerous. Metal and money are also associated with material possessions. Therefore, to be deprived of them is to symbolize the discarding of a materialistic paradigm before embracing one based on more spiritual values. It is, of course, also reminiscent of physical birth, when the infant had nothing, and was totally dependent on his mother for sustenance.
It was this ceremony that immediately came to mind when I read certain passages in Joshua Trachtenberg's JEWISH MAGIC AND SUPERSTITION, Chapter 11, "War with the Spirits". From Trachtenberg...
In describing the wedding ceremony and its "gift-offerings to the spirits", he writes:
- The presence of the gold coin, which may be viewed either as bribes, or as an anti-demonic use of metal, and of salt, which certainly was intended to drive away the demons, emphasizes the general nature of these customs. (p. 173)
- In some places the groom carried a piece of iron in his pocket during the ceremony. (p. 174)
In describing burial ceremonies:
- The rules for preparing the corpse for burial were compiled in early post-Talmudic times, and comprise practices wuch as closing the eyes, placing metal or salt on the body, setting a light at its head, etc., which were undoubtedly originaly intended to confound the spirits... (p. 175)
In Chapter 13 on "Medicine", speaking of medical practices during the Middle Ages:
- A favorite antidote...was to encircle the diseased part...with the finger or with some object, such as a ring, while reciting a charm. Where the object was of metal its anti-demonic virtues were relied upon to dispel the pain, though the commentators rationalized a Talmudic reference to such a cure with the explanation that it was intended to cool a fevered area, or to prevent it from spreading... (p. 203)
In Chapter 16 on "Astrology", speaking of ways to preserve water from demonic influence:
- Since the evil spirits were generally held responsible [for spoiling water], it was possible to adopt certain preventive measures, which were first mentioned in Western Germany in the thirteenth century, and from there spread throughout the Jewish communities of Europe. These entailed the suspension of a piece of iron in the water... (p. 258)
Symbols, of course, can have more than one meaning, yet a Jewish influence on Freemasonry is undeniable. It was, then, with interest that I discovered this Jewish practice of using metal to ward off evil spirits, and compared it to the careful Masonic practice of insuring that the candidate for the First Degree of Freemasonry be stripped of all metal, which would, in the Jewish magical idiom make him vulnerable to diabolical influence.