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What exactly do we mean by symbolism in Freemasonry? Actually, it is not easy trying to explain it. It's a little bit like describing strawberry jam to a friend who has never tasted it.
Alain Berheim, author of several books on Freemasonry, even believes that the meaning of Masonic symbols “cannot be explained or commented upon”. He justifies this by saying that “nothing expressed with words – lectures, instructions or conferences – allow us to hear the music of Freemasonry. Music should be heard, not explained. The music of Freemasonry goes through the heart, not through the brain”.
However, we are willing to try. The first point to make is that symbolism is of little interest unless we work at the same time on spirituality. Symbolism is of little use in a Lodge that only works to bring about changes in society or tries to understand the world through physics.
Symbolism has its basic roots in spirituality. And spirituality, which we have already alluded to several times, is the other invisible face of matter. More precisely, in a world made up of matter and spirit, the two are inseparable, and to neglect one side of the equation is to reduce it to one dimension... until it finally disappears. The two dimensions are complementary.
For the time being, we will define symbols simply, so as not to reveal what our apprentices learn during their instruction sessions. It would be a violation of our secrets to reveal everything to you before you take your Apprenticeship Oath.
Inside a Masonic Lodge, there are a multitude of symbols which Apprentices and Fellow Craft study, in order to be able to understand and fully experience Freemasonry. The use of the term “experience” is deliberate. Anyone who wants to understand Freemasonry must first feel it in their bones. The mind is not very useful for an Apprentice Mason. As Henri Bergson rightly said, "There are things that intelligence alone is capable of seeking, but that it will never find on its own. Only instinct is capable of finding them, but it will never look for them.”
We see many candidates who are totally under the influence of the fears that are propagated by our daily newspapers and other media. They think that reasoning with their heads will reassure them. Unfortunately for them, the only Freemasons who understand are those who are capable of feeling. You will find thousands of Masons able to talk for hours about Masonic philosophy, others about its history, others still about what they have understood from their reading of the Ritual and finally the “intellectuals”, those who analyse and dissect... but at no time do they feel. As Montaigne rightly said, "I don't teach, I tell". It is therefore advisable to let yourself be gently rocked and feel the symbolism, which will then act like a tea bag in very hot water and create a change in taste that you can enjoy physically.
Now, all Apprentice Masons work on symbolism. When we say "work", it does not mean that the Apprentice must open Wikipedia to discover that the speed of light is three hundred thousand kilometres per second and that the sun's rays take eight minutes to reach the earth. This would only be school physics. A Lodge is certainly not the antechamber of a school classroom. Even if in practice, the Freemason must also constantly study and perfect his knowledge. What interests us is the symbolic function, one that is understandable by all those who have the same cultural references as us. In fact, it is a common language.
So let us get to the heart of the matter, with a couple of examples. The Moon and the Sun: both are present in a Lodge. It can be said that the Sun and the Moon are complementary. The Moon is representative of the passive principle because it receives the Light and the Sun is representative of the active principle because it emits the Light. One cannot exist without the other, because if the Sun disappears, our solar system sinks into chaos. Without the Moon, our entire equilibrium is affected. So we can affirm that the Moon and the Sun are living symbols of the principle of duality, similar to the masculine and the feminine. We can then look at what duality is and where it is found elsewhere in the Lodge... and in life in general. We use a double symbol to understand a universal principle. A human being, as long as he remains locked into his duality, is a prisoner.
As the Lodge reflects duality, it will probably not surprise you to know that there are two columns, the North and the South (which are given different names once our work is open because they then take on a symbolic dimension). In front of each one, there is a Warden, an important Officer, because he assists the Worshipful Master during our meetings.
As an old Yiddish proverb says, "When choosing between two solutions, always choose the third one". In fact, the Masonic method makes it possible to go beyond the principle of duality and reach the tertiary principle, corresponding to three, which is the principle of spirituality... and then even further afterwards.
This is just a foretaste of Masonic symbolism in order to give you an idea of the interest of our work. To help you understand how an individual can develop their consciousness, without spending their life in a library, stuffing their head with books which will finally not be of much use. It is not a question of increasing your level of knowledge, but of raising your level of consciousness.
We promised you two examples of symbolism and have saved the best for last. The symbol attributed to the Apprentice is a tool called the Plumb Rule. The Fellow Craft’s symbol is a Level. These two symbols are very important, because the first one encourages the freshly initiated Mason to work on his rectitude, both in body and mind. When the Apprentice has acquired and interiorised these important aspects, he can hold himself erect when he moves towards the others. He can then pass into the Fellow Craft. The Level symbolises the horizontal, which makes it possible for us to meet and nourish others with what we are and, in exchange, also to nourish ourselves with what they are.
 Quoted in The Freemason, issue 30, April 1, 2017.