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Acacia in Freemasonry
Acacia is an important symbol in freemasonry. Reference to Acacia in the Rituals is found in the sentence, “..and to distinguish the spot stuck a sprig of acacia at the head of...”
There are two genus of the acacia, the true acacia, acacia vera and the false acacia robinia pseudacacia of American origin.It is desirable that the physical aspects of acacia are noticed first before considering the symbolism and the symbolic aspect of acacia.
Catholic Encyclopedia mentions that the Biblical Acacia belongs to the genus Mimosa, and is no doubt identical with the Acacia seyal (Del.) or the Acacia tortilis (Hayne); both are called seyyal, or torrent trees, seyal means torrent. They grow in the desert wadis, or torrent valleys, of Sinai.
The wood is light, hard, and durable, and grows almost as black as ebony with age. Botanically, it has several names; acacia vera, mimosa nilotica, acacia tortilis and the acacia arabica growing in the vicinity of Jerusalem. Gum Arabic is obtained from that tree.
Mackey in his revised Encyclopedia mentions that it is called babul tree in India. Oliver in his Landmarks (Vol-2) had observed that acacia did not grow on the north and in Jerusalem area. Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, had however asserted that the tree grew in Jerusalem and it looked like the mulberry tree attaining great height and had a hard wood and its sap produced gum Arabic. Lieutenant Lynch in his book the Expedition to the Dead Sea, has recorded that Acacia grew in great abundance at Jericho, and still farther north.
There are abundant Acacia trees throughout Jerusalem. The acacias wattle, mimosa, gum tree, etc. and their varieties grow in Australia, Africa, India and tropical countries.
Jewish Encyclopedia mentions that Rabbinical Literature refers to acacia as shittah among the ten kinds of cedar-trees and fourteen evergreen trees and that "Of all these the shittim-wood alone was selected in order to atone for the sin that Israel was to commit. References are found in Shittim [Num. xxv. 1 et seq.].
Indeed, while Phine has assuaged the divine wrath [Num. xxv. 7], the Holy One—blessed be He!—said: 'I shall in the future heal the plague of Shittim-- A fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim'"; see Joel, iv. 18, Heb. (Tan. l.c.).
"Acacia trees without any knots or fissures were cut by Jacob the patriarch in Migdal ebo'aya, Palestine, and were taken down by him to Egypt to be preserved by his children for future use in the wilderness; wherefore we read (Ex. xxxv. 24): 'Every man with whom was found shittim [R. V. acacia] wood.'
R. Hananiah was asked regarding the Acacia-trees that were still growing there whether it was right that people should refrain from using them for common purposes in order that the wood might be consecrated solely for the Ark, to which he replied: 'By all means remain true to the custom of your fathers,'" which was not to use Acacia for such purposes (Gen. R. xciv.; Cant. R. i. 12; Yer. Pes. iv. 30d; see also Testament of the Patriarchs, Simeon, § 8).K.
The following are the references to acacia in the Bible.
(Exo 25:10 NIV) "Have them make a chest of acacia wood--two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.
(Exo 25:13 NIV) Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold.
(Exo 25:23 NIV) "Make a table of acacia wood--two cubits long, a cubit wide and a cubit and a half high.
(Exo 25:28 NIV) Make the poles of acacia wood, overlay them with gold and carry the table with them.
(Exo 26:15 NIV) "Make upright frames of acacia wood for the tabernacle.
(Exo 26:26 NIV) "Also make crossbars of acacia wood: five for the frames on one side of the tabernacle,
(Exo 26:32 NIV) Hang it with gold hooks on four posts of acacia wood overlaid with gold and standing on four silver bases.
(Exo 26:37 NIV) Make gold hooks for this curtain and five posts of acacia wood overlaid with gold. And cast five bronze bases for them.
(Exo 27:1 NIV) "Build an altar of acacia wood, three cubits high; it is to be square, five cubits long and five cubits wide.
(Exo 27:6 NIV) Make poles of acacia wood for the altar and overlay them with bronze.
(Exo 30:1 NIV) "Make an altar of acacia wood for burning incense.
(Exo 30:5 NIV) Make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold.
(Exo 35:24 NIV) Those presenting an offering of silver or bronze brought it as an offering to the LORD, and everyone who had acacia wood for any part of the work brought it.
(Exo 36:20 NIV) They made upright frames of acacia wood for the tabernacle.
(Exo 36:31 NIV) They also made crossbars of acacia wood: five for the frames on one side of the tabernacle,
(Exo 36:36 NIV) They made four posts of acacia wood for it and overlaid them with gold. They made gold hooks for them and cast their four silver bases.
(Exo 37:1 NIV) Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood--two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.
(Exo 37:4 NIV) Then he made poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold.
(Exo 37:10 NIV) They made the table of acacia wood--two cubits long, a cubit wide, and a cubit and a half high.
(Exo 37:15 NIV) The poles for carrying the table were made of acacia wood and were overlaid with gold.
(Exo 37:25 NIV) They made the altar of incense out of acacia wood. It was square, a cubit long and a cubit wide, and two cubits high --its horns of one piece with it.
(Exo 37:28 NIV) They made the poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold.
(Exo 38:1 NIV) They built the altar of burnt offering of acacia wood, three cubits high; it was square, five cubits long and five cubits wide.
(Exo 38:6 NIV) They made the poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with bronze.
(Deu 10:3 NIV) So I made the ark out of acacia wood and chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I went up on the mountain with the two tablets in my hands.
(Isa 41:19 NIV) I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set pines in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together.
Acacia is referred to in scripture as shittah. The plural is shittim. Acacia was a sacred wood, among the Hebrews. Moses was instructed by God to make the tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, the table for the showbread, as well as the rest of the sacred furniture for the tabernacle, out of Shittim wood.
Portions of Exodus referred to above mention that the wood was overlaid with gold. We find from the Scripture that Acacia was held more sacred than the other trees. It is also said that Acacia was used for Christ's Cross and his crown was made of Acacia thorns.
Let us now consider the symbolism of Acacia in freemasonry.
Early Freemasons appear to have appropriated a hallowed plant as a sacred symbol, teaching a divine truth for all the ages to come. The symbolic relationship of the Acacia appear to point out the three aspects of Immortality, Innocence and Initiation.
Bro.Mackey in his Revised Encyclopedia points out that Acacia symbolically represents;
1. Immortality of the Soul.
2. Innocence and
Many Masonic scholars have also written on this aspect.
Immortality of the Soul
The nature of the flower, which comes forth only to be cut down, reflects the transitory nature of man's life.
While the continual renewal of the evergreen, represents youth and vigour to be compared to a spiritual life, where man's soul free from the body may enjoy immortality.
Acacia is a hardy tree and can stand tremendous variations in weather, rain and drought. It grows even after it is cut and burned. It grows even if one root alone is left. Acacia is therefore a symbol of immortality.
The evergreen used in the funeral service for masons is an emblem of our faith in the immortality of the soul. By this we are reminded that we have an immortal part within us, which shall survive the grave and which shall never die.
According to Dalcho, a historian, the Hebrews always planted a sprig of acacia at the head of the grave of a departed friend. This custom among the Hebrews arose from the following circumstance. Jewish law forbids the internment of the dead within the city walls. The Cohens or Priests were prohibited from crossing graves. It was therefore necessary to place marks thereon, so that they could avoid the graves. For this purpose the acacia was used.
From this, the propriety of placing a sprig of acacia as an emblem of immortality, as a symbol of the ceremonies intended to teach the great truth "the life of man, regulated by morality, faith and justice will be rewarded at its closing hour by the prospect of eternal bliss. In the Masonic Funeral Service, as used in New Brunswick, the Acacia is depicted as "an emblem of our faith in the immortality of the soul."
To this day in some of the funeral services, the participants carry a sprig of cedar (acacia) to place with the apron set in place during the ceremony. The ancient custom which this commemorates has the mourners carry in their hands a sprig of some evergreen, generally cedar or cypress to place in the grave of the deceased.
The sprig of acacia, in its most ordinary signification, presents itself to the master mason as a symbol of the immortality of the soul being intended to remind him, by its evergreen and unchanging nature, of that better and spiritual part within us, which as an emanation from the Grand Architect of the Universe, can never die.
Acacia is also a symbol of Innocence. The symbolism in this instance depends not on any real analogy in the symbols use or form, rather on the compound meaning of the word.
The word akakia in the Greek language refers to the plant and the purity of the life or the moral quality of innocence and it is the word for innocence, or being free from sin.
Among the nations of antiquity, it was common to symbolize the virtues and other qualities of the mind as common plants. The Olive was adopted as the symbol of peace, the Quince was the symbol of love and happiness, the Palm was the symbol of victory and the Rosemary, the symbol of remembrance etc.
The word Acacia can be considered symbolic of
the initiation of a new member. Most of the ancient initiations and
religious mysteries had a plant of some type occupying a position of
importance in the performance of the rites. The particular plant used,
became the adopted initiation symbol from prominent and constant
ceremonial usages. There were different plants used in the ancient
mysteries. Lettuce was the sacred plant of the mysteries of Adonis,
becoming the analogue of the Acacia in the Masonic mysteries. The Lotus
in India's religious rites and prayers, the Mistletoe in the rites of
the Druids, the Erica or Heath in the Egyptian rites and the Myrtle used
in the Greek mysteries are examples of such usage and practice. In
Egypt, the Erica, or Heath was a sacred plant. In the mysteries of
Osiris, there is the story of Isis, that during the search of the body
of her murdered husband (Osiris), the same was found interred at the
brow of a hill, near which an Erica or heath plant grew and hence, after
the recovery of the body and the resurrection of the god, when she
established the mysteries to commemorate her loss and the recovery, she
adopted the Erica as a sacred plant, in memory of it having indicated
the spot where the remains of Osiris were concealed. This is similar to
our legend with this difference that Acacia was substituted for the
Erica and Osiris was substituted for Hiram Abiff. Acacia being the
substitute for the Lotus, the Erica, the Ivy, the Mistletoe and the
Myrtle, was adopted by the ancient brethren as a symbol of Initiation
into M.M degree. Further, acacia leaves adorn the Grand Officers’
Collars on the left, while on the right, there is the ear of corn. Our
ancient brethren had symbolically held the sacred symbol of the Acacia
leaves closer to the heart of the Grand Officers and the tradition still
Reprinted from: Tyne-Castle Lodge 6317 in the Province of Northumberland