The Hiram Abif legend in Freemasonry:
What is it about? What are we supposed to learn from it?
Outline for presentation at Benjamin B. French Lodge #15, F.A.A.M., District of Columbia
Hiram Abif legend was not used when modern Freemasonry started in 1717.
By 1730 (just a few years later) it was the central part of the Masonic ritual.
Today it remains the heart of the ritual. It is supposed to teach us Masonic lessons. But what are they?
No "Hiram Abif" in the Bible, but there are "Hiram's" in connection with the Temple of Solomon.
Widow's son, from the tribe of Naphtali, or from the tribe of Dan.
Brass worker, not stone mason (compare with Masonic reference to another brass worker).
Arrived after the Temple was completed, to work on items placed in it.
Or arrived during the building of the Temple, completed his work, and returned home safely.
Examples of inconsistencies in the story, if taken literally
1 not 3 gates to the Temple.
What could have been done with the "word" even if the ruffians had obtained it?
Why attack separately rather than together? Why use the weapons we are told about?
What possible purpose for marking the grave?
Why attempt to go to Ethiopia, rather than someplace else? Why by sea?
Why would 2 who knew the word not be able to give it, even if the 3rd was gone?
Why do we use a substitute word, now that the Royal Arch degree gives us the "true" lost word?
Why would the substitute have to be given on the "5 points?"
What is meant by "raising" the body? For what purpose in that manner, if it was decomposed?
(Why prevent the candidates from seeing the drama in a way that would give them the full benefit of it?)
Possible interpretations of the Hiram Abif legend given by Masonic writers
Expulsion of mankind from the Garden of Eden.
Cain and Abel. Noah and the Ark. Joseph mourning for Jacob. Death and resurrection of Jesus.
Murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170.
Destruction of the Templars. Jacques DeMolay's execution in 1314.
Oppression of Stuart Kings of England against their people. Execution of King Charles I in 1649.
Oppression against the Stuart pretenders to the throne of England.
Expulsion of King James II in 1688-1689. Jacobites' efforts to regain the English throne.
Virtue of keeping secrets, keeping oaths. Regeneration (spiritually) of man, nature, or both.
Immortality of the soul, the body, or both. Separation of mankind from Deity, and coming back.
Egyptian: Osiris, Isis, Horas. Sun: rising, midday, setting. Astronomical problem (Yarker).
Story of what happens to us in old age. Psychology of each human being.
Savage initiation ceremony.
Many cultures talk of losing something important, result of evil, later found and helped society.
Just a stirring ritual ceremony (Coil's choice).
Some things to think about
Names of the ruffians -- similarity to the "true word" given in the Royal Arch degree. Any significance?
Murder by fellow workmen, with one's own working tools. Are we our own worst enemy? Should we expect attacks by those we think are our friends and brothers? Even our Masonic brethren?
Sometimes kings and others attack free speech, religious leaders and others attack freedom of conscience, and ignorance destroys freedom of thought.
Freemasonry (remember the period when the Hiram Abif legend started, 1717-1730) teaches that each person is entitled to dignity and respect, freedom of thought and speech, not even our friends, or ourselves, should curtail this freedom. Hiramic legend could be about the universal struggle for freedom.
If so, what is this freedom?
Freedom of speech includes freedom of those who say things we hate, hurtful things that upset people. Otherwise, it is not real freedom.
Theories of why freedom of speech is valuable:
(1) The best ideas will "win" when all have a chance to be heard and tested. Marketplace theory.
(2) Safety valve. If people can't say what they want, they might build bombs instead.
(3) Free speech enhances the human spirit. People should be able to think and say whatever they wish, whether there's any chance of persuading people, or any other purpose to it. Self-fulfillment.
Freemasonry and freedom (things to think about)
We say Freemasonry supports freedom, and that's why dictators oppose Freemasonry.
What specific examples can be given of how Freemasonry supports freedom of speech & thought today?
If there's a need for harmony in the Craft, and therefore limitations on free speech, why can't the same be said for limitations on freedom of speech in society, to preserve harmony there, too?
If the Hiram Abif legend is about freedom of speech, conscience, and thought, what is Freemasonry doing to promote what we teach in this most important part of our ritual?
Where to read more about this subject
Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia, by Henry Wilson Coil, 1996 revision by Allen E. Roberts.
Mackey's Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, by Albert G. Mackey, 1946 revision by Robert I. Clegg.
Who Was Hiram Abif?, by J.M.S. Ward, 1925.
Symbolism of the Three Degrees, by Oliver Day Street, 1924.
The Lost Word: Its Hidden Meaning, by George H. Steinmetz, 1953.
Freemasonry: A Journey Through Ritual and Symbol, by W. Kirk MacNulty, 1991.
Ars Quatuor Coronatorum (AQC), vol. 1 (1886-1888) pages 25-27; vol. 5 (1892) pages 136-141; vol. 7 (1894) page 134; vol. 8 (1895) page 27; vol. 43 (1930) pages 158-181; vol. 66 (1953) pages 89-103; vol. 67 (1943) page 53; vol. 73 (1960) pages 118-120; vol. 76 (1963) pages 220-224; vol. 77 (1964) pages 274-278.
The Builder magazine (published 1915-1930), vol. 1 (1915) page 285; vol. 3 (1917) pages 101, 113, 137, 175, 237; vol. 4 (1918) page 294; vol. 5 (1919) pages Oct CCB 8, 131, Nov CCB 5; vol. 6 (1920) pages Oct CCB 3-4, Cor. 56, Sept CCB 3-4, Oct CCB 3, 236; vol. 7 (1921) page QB 333; vol. 8 (1922) pages 144, 65, Cor 223, SC 19, 310; vol. 9 (1923) pages 294, 296; vol. 10 (1924) pages QB 222, 40, QB 127; vol. 11 (1925) pages 95, 256; vol. 12 (1926) pages Lib 156, 72, 109, 130, 170, 200, 203, 111, 110, 74, 75; vol. 14 (1928) page 183; vol. 15 (1929) pages 162, Lib 156.
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