The signs and symbols of ancient and modern Freemasonry are rooted in Egypt and the evidence is overwhelmingly obvious that Freemasonry borrowed its allegorical myths and ideological metaphors from more ancient societies that were well advanced in the philosophical mysteries.
Why ancient Egypt?
The uneducated with no interest in mystical traditions and the esoteric may regard Ancient Egypt as little more than a place of pagan worship, strange hieroglyphics and monuments erected by thousands of Hebrew slaves. But those more learned, especially those having undertaken the initiative rituals of Freemasonry, will see a link between the Egyptian metaphysical tradition and modern mystery schools, of which Freemasonry is one.
In Ancient Greek, Egyptian and Roman civilizations there were mystery schools (écoles de mystères) which met in the context of a particular science, gnosis or secret knowledge. Members of these mystery schools were accepted only after a long period of study and initiation ceremonies. Among these schools, the first is thought to have been the school of “Osiris” based on the events of this god’s birth, youth, struggle against darkness, death and resurrection. These themes were ritually dramatized in ceremonies performed by clergy and in this way the rituals and symbols being presented were much more effective because of the actual participation.
Years later, these rites formed the first circles of a series of initiated brotherhoods that would continue under the name of Masonry. Such brotherhoods always established the same ideals and, when under oppression, were able to lead their lives secretly. They were able to survive to the present-day because they continually changed their names and their forms. But they remained faithful to ancient symbolism and their particular character and passed their ideas on to each other as a legacy.
Similarities in symbols
One of the most important things that establishes the relation between Ancient Egypt and the Masons is their symbols. Masons reveal the true meaning of their philosophy to their members through allegory. A Mason, who advances stage by stage through the degrees of the Masonic hierarchy, learns new meanings for each symbol at every stage. In this way, members descend step by step into the depths of Masonic philosophy.
The cable tow
The cable tow is purely Masonic in meaning and use, but as with many Masonic symbols it is rooted in antiquity. Vases from ancient Mexico have been unearthed that show candidates proceeding through a ceremony of initiation in which they are being taught a sign while wearing a noosed rope around their necks. In the religious ceremonies of the Brahmins, Greeks and Druids, halters were worn around an initiate’s neck. In the mystery schools of Ancient Egypt, a chain was placed around a candidate’s neck as part of his preparation for initiation. As in Freemasonry, the Egyptian candidate was also blindfolded to represent a state of darkness before emerging into the light of knowledge when the blindfold was removed.
The white apron
When a candidate becomes a Freemason, he is presented with a white apron consisting of a square overlaid with a triangle. The apex of the triangular flap represents the divine spark we must endeavor to recover. It is the part of us made in the image of our Creator, and there’s no better geometric figure to symbolize this than the triangle. After all, geometrically a triangle is the very first shape that can be made by drawing straight lines. This is why the number 3 was venerated by the ancients and still is to this day.
The triangle of divine spark
In Judaism, the triangle represents the past, present and future. To the Chinese: heaven, earth and water. To the Hindus: creation, preservation and renewal. The three points of the triangle also represent the conscious mind, the subconscious mind and the collective unconscious. The Ancient Egyptian ceremony of initiation led the candidate to a door shaped exactly as a Masonic apron: a triangle over a square, symbolizing his progression from an earthly, material existence (square) into a heavenly, spiritual existence of higher learning (triangle).
The point within a circle
The Masonic symbol of the Point Within a Circle inside two parallel, perpendicular lines is steeped in antiquity. Early Egyptian monuments have been discovered inscribed with the symbol of God — represented by the Alpha and Omega — in the centre of a circle bordered by two perpendicular, parallel serpents. In many ancient belief systems and mystery schools, a circle was used to symbolize God as, like a circle, God has no beginning and no end.
One of the emblems of the third degree of Freemasonry is the honeycomb. Many ancient civilizations revered bees and honey. The Ancient Egyptians developed methods of advanced apiculture as far back as 3000 BCE. Menes, the first King of Egypt, who ruled somewhere between 5000 BCE to 4000 BCE, was called ‘The Beekeeper’, a title bestowed on all subsequent Pharaohs.
Depictions of bees and honey are prevalent on many Egyptian carvings including the Flamic and Pamphilic obelisks, the obelisk of Luxor, the pillars of the Temple of Karnak and on statues of Rameses II. Even the Rosetta Stone, which dates to 196 BCE, was etched with pictures of bees. Royal tombs in Egypt also show the importance of beekeeping and honey, including the enormous sarcophagus of Rameses II which includes numerous pictures of honeybees. Foodstuffs created by bees, such as pots of honey, honeycombs and honey cakes, were placed by the sarcophagi as food for the gods. Even Alexander the Great requested that his body be wrapped in honey upon his death.
When he first enters a lodge room for initiation, the candidate for Freemasonry is blindfolded and has a rope tied around his neck by which he is led in a circuit of the room. This rope is called a cable tow.
The legend of Isis – the widow
Another link between modern Freemasonry and Egypt is the Isis – Osiris story that formed the crux of the Ancient Egyptian belief system.
In the Egyptian rites, Horus is the savior-avenger, son of Isis, magically conceived through ritual after the brutal murder of her husband / brother Osiris. We can apply this myth to modern Freemasonry’s allegory of the murder of Hiram Abiff, the chief architect of Solomon’s Temple. Isis, made a widow by Osiris’ murder (Freemason’s are called Widow’s Sons), gives birth through initiation ritual to Horus, the redeemer, raised solely that me may avenge the destruction of wisdom (by Set aka chaos) and restore peace, harmony and the just god, in whom there is no death (the Divine Spark within).
Egyptian mysticism, belief and symbol system can help us to understand better the degrees of masonry concept, and deep connection between modern Freemasonry and ancient Egypt. Egyptian mysticism has also permeated into the western traditions of the Jews and the Greeks as well.