The great poet William Blake once wrote, in his Auguries of Innocence
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour…”
Those words may sound either lofty or like trifling rhyme. Whatever they sound like to you, one can never grasp Blake’s meaning without further inquiry. Masonry is very much like this stanza from Blake because like the sublime points of Blake’s stanza, the Craft also remains largely unexamined.
“The meaning of Masonry is a subject usually left entirely unexplored. Because of this, the Craft remains largely unrealized by its members save such few who make it their private study. Masonry is a cryptic expression of the difficult science of spiritual life and calls for special and informed guidance on the one hand, and on the other a genuine, earnest desire for knowledge and no small capacity for spiritual perception on the part of those seeking to be instructed.
Were such instruction provided, assimilated and responded to, the life of the individual and the Craft would be greatly enriched and its efficiency as a means of Initiation intensified. It is absolutely essential to understand that spiritual quality rather than numbers of members and the ability to understand the Masonic system and reduce its implications into personal experience rather than the perfunctory conferment of its rites, is crucial if the Craft is to survive and if we are ever to continue to grow on our own respective journeys.
It must be remembered that the lodge is not a business, but that our business is the lodge; it is built from that which we provide. And so the fruits of our labors, good and bad, will determine how individual Masons approach the cornerstones–not necessarily of this building–but of this temple, here [breast]: The faithful breast wherein lies the entrance to the inner chamber, open to all who seek. You must first look within, then knock, and finally, boldly enter this temple.” — Wilmshurst, paraphrased.
The great Temple of Solomon has been a Masonic symbol for many centuries. For some, King Solomon’s Temple has never been more than a divinely inspired Biblical landmark. For others it has served as an anchor for the mythology of our Craft. Others see the Temple of Solomon as metaphorical in that the teachings of Masonry are applied on a philosophical and moral level. The symbol of the Temple serves such purposes in the mind of individual Masons, perhaps being an amalgam of many ideas and reflections.
It is written that the great Temple of Solomon was erected on a table of rock which crowned a hill in Jerusalem called Mount Mariah, attributed to which was ‘the spot where Adam was created,’ where ‘Abraham offered Isaac,’ and where ‘David erected his altar.’ The Muslims describe it as ‘the Center of the World’ and ‘the Gate of Heaven’ and Mohammed persuaded his followers that it was from the same hill that he had made his famous ‘ascent to heaven.’
There is a tradition that says when Solomon was uncertain where he was to erect the Temple, he was instructed by a heavenly voice within him to go to the mount in the middle of the night and find a field that was owned jointly by two brothers. One of these brothers was unmarried and poor, and the other had large wealth and a considerable family. During the night, the poorer brother added part of his own share of the harvest grain to the store of his richer brother because he had many mouths to feed. Under the cover of the same darkness, the rich brother carried part of the grain and placed it upon the stack of his poorer brother because his need was greater. Neither knew of the gifts of the other, and the benevolent conspiracy went on for a long time. Solomon was so impressed by the brotherly love of these two men that he considered the place to sanctified and bought it, that he might build a temple thereon
The Bible relates that the Temple was seven years in building. Its chief supports were three columns denominated “Wisdom, Strength and Beauty.” Further data is given regarding the number of columns and pilasters, the number of Grand Masters, Masters, Fellow-craft and Apprentices employed in the work. It may be safely said that this information refers not only to the literal Temple of King Solomon, but refers to the human body, of which the Temple of Solomon is symbolical. In fact, some authorities are of the opinion that the numerology of the Temple refers to the number of bones, nerves, muscles and organs of the body according to ancient theories of anatomy. This is not so far-fetched; the human body and mind do indeed contain many things, from wisdom, strength and beauty to other more sublime plans laid down by our Creator.
To the Mystic, the Creator is the Great Architect—the Master over all those craftsmen whose combined labors must enrich and beautify the creation. But Man, too is a master builder. Each human being is erecting a temple of his own character, even as he is building a body through which he must function. He is casting beautiful ornaments for his Father’s house when he ennobles his emotions, refines his appetites, and improves his mind. Those initiates of ancient rites who achieved outstanding proficiency in these endeavors were called master builders. They were building not houses of wood and stone, but invisible temples fashioned without the sound of hammer or the voice of workmen. When it has been completed insofar as man is capable of fulfilling his own destiny, it is consecrated to the service of the god for whom it was built. If the work is well done, the sanctuary becomes the abode of his God, according to the promise that was given in the beginning of time.
A man erected as surely as the great Temple of Solomon, strong as well as impressive, yet seeking not to impress, will abide. The literal temples of stone and flesh may in time be carried away but the spirit of such a man endures. It is in the journey inward that he comes full-circle in his journeys and finds that he is not alone, but in harmony with all of the world and the Creation.
Here lies the great secret of Masonry—that it makes a man aware of that divinity within him, from whence his whole life takes its beauty and meaning, and inspires him to follow and obey it.
Brother Greg Maier, Brother H.L. Haywood, Symbolical Masonry (1923)
Brother Manly P. Hall, The Mystical Christ (1951), Old Testament Wisdom (1951)
Brother W.L. Wilmshurst, The Meaning of Masonry (1867)
Brother George Steinmetz, Freemasonry Its Hidden Meaning (1948)