The following appears as Chapter XXIV on pp. 176-197 of the 1869 edition of “The Symbolism of Freemasonry” by Albert G. Mackey.
Another important symbol is the Ineffable Name, with which the series of ritualistic symbols will be concluded.
The Tetragrammaton, or Ineffable Word,—the Incommunicable Name,—is a symbol—for rightly-considered it is nothing more than a symbol—that has more than any other (except, perhaps, the symbols connected with sun-worship), pervaded the rites of antiquity. I know, indeed, of no system of ancient initiation in which it has not some prominent form and place.
But as it was, perhaps, the earliest symbol which was corrupted by the spurious Freemasonry of the pagans, in their secession from the primitive system of the patriarchs and ancient priesthood, it will be most expedient for the thorough discussion of the subject which is proposed in the present paper, that we should begin the investigation with an inquiry into the nature of the symbol among the Israelites.
That name of God, which we, at a venture, pronounce Jehovah,—although whether this is, or is not, the true pronunciation can now never be authoritatively settled,—was ever held by the Jews in the most profound veneration. They derived its origin from the immediate inspiration of the Almighty, who communicated it to Moses as his especial appellation, to be used only by his chosen people; and this communication was made at the Burning Bush, when he said to him, “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: Jehovah, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this [Jehovah] is my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.” And at a subsequent period he still more emphatically declared this to be his peculiar name: “I am Jehovah; and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of El Shaddai; but by my name Jehovah was I not known unto them.”
It will be perceived that I have not here followed precisely the somewhat unsatisfactory version of King Jamesʼs Bible, which, by translating or anglicizing one name, and not the other, leaves the whole passage less intelligible and impressive than it should be. I have retained the original Hebrew for both names. El Shaddai, “the Almighty One,” was the name by which he had been heretofore known to the preceding patriarchs; in its meaning it was analogous to Elohim, who is described in the first chapter of Genesis as creating the world. But his name of Jehovah was now for the first time to be communicated to his people.
Ushered to their notice with all the solemnity and religious consecration of these scenes and events, this name of God became invested among the Israelites with the profoundest veneration and awe. To add to this mysticism, the Cabalists, by the change of a single letter, read the passage, “This is my name forever,” or, as it is in the original, Zeh shemi lʼolam, זה שמי לעלם as if written Zeh shemi lʼalam, זה שמי לאלם that is to say, “This is my name to be concealed.”
This interpretation, although founded on a blunder, and in all probability an intentional one, soon became a precept, and has been strictly obeyed to this day. The word Jehovah is never pronounced by a pious Jew, who, whenever he meets with it in Scripture, substitutes for it the word Adonai or Lord—a practice which has been followed by the translators of the common English version of the Bible with almost Jewish scrupulosity, the word “Jehovah” in the original being invariably translated by the word “Lord.” The pronunciation of the word, being thus abandoned, became ultimately lost, as, by the peculiar construction of the Hebrew language, which is entirely without vowels, the letters, being all consonants, can give no possible indication, to one who has not heard it before, of the true pronunciation of any given word.
To make this subject plainer to the reader who is unacquainted with the Hebrew, I will venture to furnish an explanation which will, perhaps, be intelligible.
The Hebrew alphabet consists entirely of consonants, the vowel sounds having always been inserted orally, and never marked in writing until the “vowel points,” as they are called, were invented by the Masorites, some six centuries after the Christian era. As the vowel sounds were originally supplied by the reader, while reading, from a knowledge which he had previously received, by means of oral instruction, of the proper pronunciation of the word, he was necessarily unable to pronounce any word which had never before been uttered in his presence. As we know that Dr. is to be pronounced Doctor, and Mr. Mister, because we have always heard those peculiar combinations of letters thus enunciated, and not because the letters themselves give any such sound; so the Jew knew from instruction and constant practice, and not from the power of the letters, how the consonants in the different words in daily use were to be vocalized. But as the four letters which compose the word Jehovah, as we now call it, were never pronounced in his presence, but were made to represent another word, Adonai, which was substituted for it, and as the combination of these four consonants would give no more indication for any sort of enunciation than the combinations Dr. or Mr. give in our language, the Jew, being ignorant of what vocal sounds were to be supplied, was unable to pronounce the word, so that its true pronunciation was in time lost to the masses of the people.
There was one person, however, who, it is said, was in possession of the proper sound of the letters and the true pronunciation of the word. This was the high priest, who, receiving it from his predecessor, preserved the recollection of the sound by pronouncing it three times, once a year, on the day of the atonement, when he entered the holy of holies of the tabernacle or the temple.
If the traditions of Masonry on this subject are correct, the kings, after the establishment of the monarchy, must have participated in this privilege; for Solomon is said to have been in possession of the word, and to have communicated it to his two colleagues at the building of the temple.
This is the word which, from the number of its letters, was called the “tetragrammaton,” or four-lettered name, and, from its sacred inviolability, the “ineffable” or unutterable name.
The Cabalists and Talmudists have enveloped it in a host of mystical superstitions, most of which are as absurd as they are incredible, but all of them tending to show the great veneration that has always been paid to it. Thus they say that it is possessed of unlimited powers, and that he who pronounces it shakes heaven and earth, and inspires the very angels with terror and astonishment.
The Rabbins called it “shem hamphorash,” that is to say, “the name that is declaratory,” and they say that David found it engraved on a stone while digging into the earth.
From the sacredness with which the name was venerated, it was seldom, if ever, written in full, and, consequently, a great many symbols, or hieroglyphics, were invented to express it. One of these was the letter י or Yod, equivalent nearly to the English I, or J, or Y, which was the initial of the word, and it was often inscribed within an equilateral triangle, thus:
the triangle itself being a symbol of Deity.
This symbol of the name of God is peculiarly worthy of our attention, since not only is the triangle to be found in many of the ancient religions occupying the same position, but the whole symbol itself is undoubtedly the origin of that hieroglyphic exhibited in the second degree of Masonry, where, the explanation of the symbolism being the same, the form of it, as far as it respects the letter, has only been anglicized by modern innovators. In my own opinion, the letter G, which is used in the Fellow Craftʼs degree, should never have been permitted to intrude into Masonry; it presents an instance of absurd anachronism, which would never have occurred if the original Hebrew symbol had been retained. But being there now, without the possibility of removal, we have only to remember that it is in fact but the symbol of a symbol.
Widely spread, as I have already said, was this reverence for the name of God; and, consequently, its symbolism, in some peculiar form, is to be found in all the ancient rites.
Thus the Ineffable Name itself, of which we have been discoursing, is said to have been preserved in its true pronunciation by the Essenes, who, in their secret rites, communicated it to each other only in a whisper, and in such form, that while its component parts were known, they were so separated as to make the whole word a mystery.
Among the Egyptians, whose connection with the Hebrews was more immediate than that of any other people, and where, consequently, there was a greater similarity of rites, the same sacred name is said to have been used as a password, for the purpose of gaining admission to their Mysteries.
In the Brahminic Mysteries of Hindostan the ceremony of initiation was terminated by intrusting the aspirant with the sacred, triliteral name, which was AUM, the three letters of which were symbolic of the creative, preservative, and destructive principles of the Supreme Deity, personified in the three manifestations of Bramah, Siva, and Vishnu. This word was forbidden to be pronounced aloud. It was to be the subject of silent meditation to the pious Hindoo.
In the rites of Persia an ineffable name was also communicated to the candidate after his initiation. Mithras, the principal divinity in these rites, who took the place of the Hebrew Jehovah, and represented the sun, had this peculiarity in his name—that the numeral value of the letters of which it was composed amounted to precisely 365, the number of days which constitute a revolution of the earth around the sun, or, as they then supposed, of the sun around the earth.
In the Mysteries introduced by Pythagoras into Greece we again find the ineffable name of the Hebrews, obtained doubtless by the Samian Sage during his visit to Babylon. The symbol adopted by him to express it was, however, somewhat different, being ten points distributed in the form of a triangle, each side containing four points, as in the annexed figure.
The apex of the triangle was consequently a single point then followed below two others, then three; and lastly, the base consisted of four. These points were, by the number in each rank, intended, according to the Pythagorean system, to denote respectively the monad, or active principle of nature; the duad, or passive principle; the triad, or world emanating from their union; and the quaterniad, or intellectual science; the whole number of points amounting to ten, the symbol of perfection and consummation. This figure was called by Pythagoras the tetractys—a word equivalent in signification to the tetragrammaton; and it was deemed so sacred that on it the oath of secrecy and fidelity was administered to the aspirants in the Pythagorean rites.
Among the Scandinavians, as among the Jewish Cabalists, the Supreme God who was made known in their mysteries had twelve names, of which the principal and most sacred one was Alfader, the Universal Father.
Among the Druids, the sacred name of God was Hu—a name which, although it is supposed, by Bryant, to have been intended by them for Noah, will be recognized as one of the modifications of the Hebrew tetragrammaton. It is, in fact, the masculine pronoun in Hebrew, and may be considered as the symbolization of the male or generative principle in nature—a sort of modification of the system of Phallic worship.
This sacred name among the Druids reminds me of what is the latest, and undoubtedly the most philosophical, speculation on the true meaning, as well as pronunciation, of the ineffable tetragrammaton. It is from the ingenious mind of the celebrated Lanci; and I have already, in another work, given it to the public as I received it from his pupil, and my friend, Mr. Gliddon, the distinguished archaeologist. But the results are too curious to be omitted whenever the tetragrammaton is discussed.
Elsewhere I have very fully alluded to the prevailing sentiment among the ancients, that the Supreme Deity was bisexual, or hermaphrodite, including in the essence of his being the male and female principles, the generative and prolific powers of nature. This was the universal doctrine in all the ancient religions, and was very naturally developed in the symbol of the phallus and cteis among the Greeks, and in the corresponding one of the lingam and yoni among the Orientalists; from which symbols the masonic point within a circle is a legitimate derivation. They all taught that God, the Creator, was both male and female.
Now, this theory is undoubtedly unobjectionable on the score of orthodoxy, if we view it in the spiritual sense, in which its first propounders must necessarily have intended it to be presented to the mind, and not in the gross, sensual meaning in which it was subsequently received. For, taking the word sex, not in its ordinary and colloquial signification, as denoting the indication of a particular physical organization, but in that purely philosophical one which alone can be used in such a connection, and which simply signifies the mere manifestation of a power, it is not to be denied that the Supreme Being must possess in himself, and in himself alone, both a generative and a prolific power. This idea, which was so extensively prevalent among all the nations of antiquity, has also been traced in the tetragrammaton, or name of Jehovah, with singular ingenuity, by Lanci; and, what is almost equally as interesting, he has, by this discovery, been enabled to demonstrate what was, in all probability, the true pronunciation of the word.
In giving the details of this philological discovery, I will endeavor to make it as comprehensible as it can be made to those who are not critically acquainted with the construction of the Hebrew language; those who are will at once appreciate its peculiar character, and will excuse the explanatory details, of course unnecessary to them.
The ineffable name, the tetragrammaton, the shem hamphorash,—for it is known by all these appellations,—consists of four letters, yod, heh, vau, and heh, forming the word יהוה. This word, of course, in accordance with the genius of the Hebrew language, is read, as we would say, backward, or from right to left, beginning with yod [י], and ending with heh [ה].
Of these letters, the first, yod [י], is equivalent to the English i pronounced as e in the word machine.
The second and fourth letter, heh [ה], is an aspirate, and has here the sound of the English h.
And the third letter, vau [ו], has the sound of open o.
Now, reading these four letters, י, or I, ה, or H, ו, or O, and ה, or H, as the Hebrew requires, from right to left, we have the word יהוה, יהוה, which is really as near to the pronunciation as we can well come, notwithstanding it forms neither of the seven ways in which the word is said to have been pronounced, at different times, by the patriarchs.
But, thus pronounced, the word gives us no meaning, for there is no such word in Hebrew as ihoh; and, as all the Hebrew names were significative of something, it is but fair to conclude that this was not the original pronunciation, and that we must look for another which will give a meaning to the word. Now, Lanci proceeds to the discovery of this true pronunciation, as follows:—
In the Cabala, a hidden meaning is often deduced from a word by transposing or reversing its letters, and it was in this way that the Cabalists concealed many of their mysteries.
Now, to reverse a word in English is to read its letters from right to left, because our normal mode of reading is from left to right. But in Hebrew the contrary rule takes place, for there the normal mode of reading is from right to left; and therefore, to reverse the reading of a word, is to read it from left to right.
Lanci applied this cabalistic mode to the tetragrammaton, when he found that IH-OH, being read reversely, makes the word HO-HI.
But in Hebrew, ho is the masculine pronoun, equivalent to the English he; and hi is the feminine pronoun, equivalent to she; and therefore the word HO-HI, literally translated, is equivalent to the English compound HE-SHE; that is to say, the Ineffable Name of God in Hebrew, being read cabalistically, includes within itself the male and female principle, the generative and prolific energy of creation; and here we have, again, the widely-spread symbolism of the phallus and the cteis, the lingam and the yoni, or their equivalent, the point within a circle, and another pregnant proof of the connection between Freemasonry and the ancient Mysteries.
And here, perhaps, we may begin to find some meaning for the hitherto incomprehensible passage in Genesis (i. 27): “So God created man in his own image; in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” They could not have been “in the image” of IHOH, if they had not been “male and female.”
The Cabalists have exhausted their ingenuity and imagination in speculations on this sacred name, and some of their fancies are really sufficiently interesting to repay an investigation. Sufficient, however, has been here said to account for the important position that it occupies in the masonic system, and to enable us to appreciate the symbols by which it has been represented.
The great reverence, or indeed the superstitious veneration, entertained by the ancients for the name of the Supreme Being, led them to express it rather in symbols or hieroglyphics than in any word at length.
We know, for instance, from the recent researches of the archaeologists, that in all the documents of the ancient Egyptians, written in the demotic or common character of the country, the names of the gods were invariably denoted by symbols; and I have already alluded to the different modes by which the Jews expressed the tetragrammaton. A similar practice prevailed among the other nations of antiquity. Freemasonry has adopted the same expedient, and the Grand Architect of the Universe, whom it is the usage, even in ordinary writing, to designate by the initials G.A.O.T.U., is accordingly presented to us in a variety of symbols, three of which particularly require attention. These are the letter G, the equilateral triangle, and the All-Seeing Eye.
Of the letter G I have already spoken. A letter of the English alphabet can scarcely be considered an appropriate symbol of an institution which dates its organization and refers its primitive history to a period long anterior to the origin of that language. Such a symbol is deficient in the two elements of antiquity and universality which should characterize every masonic symbol. There can, therefore, be no doubt that, in its present form, it is a corruption of the old Hebrew symbol, the letter yod, by which the sacred name was often expressed. This letter is the initial of the word Jehovah, or Ihoh, as I have already stated, and is constantly to be met with in Hebrew writings as the symbol or abbreviature of Jehovah, which word, it will be remembered, is never written at length. But because G is, in like manner, the initial of God, the equivalent of Jehovah, this letter has been incorrectly, and, I cannot refrain from again saying, most injudiciously, selected to supply, in modern lodges, the place of the Hebrew symbol.
Having, then, the same meaning and force as the Hebrew yod, the letter G must be considered, like its prototype, as the symbol of the life-giving and life-sustaining power of God, as manifested in the meaning of the word Jehovah, or Ihoh, the generative and prolific energy of the Creator.
The All-Seeing Eye is another, and a still more important, symbol of the same great Being. Both the Hebrews and the Egyptians appear to have derived its use from that natural inclination of figurative minds to select an organ as the symbol of the function which it is intended peculiarly to discharge. Thus the foot was often adopted as the symbol of swiftness, the arm of strength, and the hand of fidelity. On the same principle, the open eye was selected as the symbol of watchfulness, and the eye of God as the symbol of divine watchfulness and care of the universe. The use of the symbol in this sense is repeatedly to be found in the Hebrew writers. Thus the Psalmist says (Ps. xxxiv. 15), “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry,” which explains a subsequent passage (Ps. cxxi. 4), in which it is said, “Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.”
On the same principle, the Egyptians represented Osiris, their chief deity, by the symbol of an open eye, and placed this hieroglyphic of him in all their temples. His symbolic name, on the monuments, was represented by the eye accompanying a throne, to which was sometimes added an abbreviated figure of the god, and sometimes what has been called a hatchet, but which, I consider, may as correctly be supposed to be a representation of a square.
The All-Seeing Eye may, then, be considered as a symbol of God manifested in his omnipresence—his guardian and preserving character—to which Solomon alludes in the Book of Proverbs (xv. 3), when he says, “The eyes of Jehovah are in every place, beholding (or as it might be more faithfully translated, watching) the evil and the good.” It is a symbol of the Omnipresent Deity.
The triangle is another symbol which is entitled to our consideration. There is, in fact, no other symbol which is more various in its application or more generally diffused throughout the whole system of both the Spurious and the Pure Freemasonry.
The equilateral triangle appears to have been adopted by nearly all the nations of antiquity as a symbol of the Deity.
Among the Hebrews, it has already been stated that this figure, with a yod in the centre, was used to represent the tetragrammaton, or ineffable name of God.
The Egyptians considered the equilateral triangle as the most perfect of figures, and a representative of the great principle of animated existence, each of its sides referring to one of the three departments of creation—the animal, the vegetable, and the mineral.
The symbol of universal nature among the Egyptians was the right-angled triangle, of which the perpendicular side represented Osiris, or the male principle; the base, Isis, or the female principle; and the hypothenuse, their offspring, Horus, or the world emanating from the union of both principles.
All this, of course, is nothing more nor less than the phallus and cteis, or lingam and yoni, under a different form.
The symbol of the right-angled triangle was afterwards adopted by Pythagoras when he visited the banks of the Nile; and the discovery which he is said to have made in relation to the properties of this figure, but which he really learned from the Egyptian priests, is commemorated in Masonry by the introduction of the forty-seventh problem of Euclidʼs First Book among the symbols of the third degree. Here the same mystical application is supplied as in the Egyptian figure, namely, that the union of the male and female, or active and passive principles of nature, has produced the world. For the geometrical proposition being that the squares of the perpendicular and base are equal to the square of the hypothenuse, they may be said to produce it in the same way as Osiris and Isis are equal to, or produce, the world.
Thus the perpendicular—Osiris, or the active, male principle—being represented by a line whose measurement is 3; and the base—Isis, or the passive, female principle—by a line whose measurement is 4; then their union, or the addition of the squares of these numbers, will produce a square whose root will be the hypothenuse, or a line whose measurement must be 5. For the square of 3 is 9, and the square of 4 is 16, and the square of 5 is 25; but 9 added to 16 is equal to 25; and thus, out of the addition, or coming together, of the squares of the perpendicular and base, arises the square of the hypothenuse, just as, out of the coming together, in the Egyptian system, of the active and passive principles, arises, or is generated, the world.
In the mediaeval history of the Christian church, the great ignorance of the people, and their inclination to a sort of materialism, led them to abandon the symbolic representations of the Deity, and to depict the Father with the form and lineaments of an aged man, many of which irreverent paintings, as far back as the twelfth century, are to be found in the religious books and edifices of Europe. But, after the period of the renaissance, a better spirit and a purer taste began to pervade the artists of the church, and thenceforth the Supreme Being was represented only by his name—the tetragrammaton—inscribed within an equilateral triangle, and placed within a circle of rays. Didron, in his invaluable work on Christian Iconography, gives one of these symbols, which was carved on wood in the seventeenth century, of which I annex a copy.
But even in the earliest ages, when the Deity was painted or sculptured as a personage, the nimbus, or glory, which surrounded the head of the Father, was often made to assume a triangular form. Didron says on this subject, “A nimbus, of a triangular form, is thus seen to be the exclusive attribute of the Deity, and most frequently restricted to the Father Eternal. The other persons of the trinity sometimes wear the triangle, but only in representations of the trinity, and because the Father is with them. Still, even then, beside the Father, who has a triangle, the Son and the Holy Ghost are often drawn with a circular nimbus only.”
The triangle has, in all ages and in all religions, been deemed a symbol of Deity.
The Egyptians, the Greeks, and the other nations of antiquity, considered this figure, with its three sides, as a symbol of the creative energy displayed in the active and passive, or male and female, principles, and their product, the world; the Christians referred it to their dogma of the trinity as a manifestation of the Supreme God; and the Jews and the primitive masons to the three periods of existence included in the signification of the tetragrammaton—the past, the present, and the future.
In the higher degrees of Masonry, the triangle is the most important of all symbols, and most generally assumes the name of the Delta, in allusion to the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet, which is of the same form and bears that appellation.
The Delta, or mystical triangle, is generally surrounded by a circle of rays, called a “glory.” When this glory is distinct from the figure, and surrounds it in the form of a circle (as in the example just given from Didron), it is then an emblem of Godʼs eternal glory. When, as is most usual in the masonic symbol, the rays emanate from the centre of the triangle, and, as it were, enshroud it in their brilliancy, it is symbolic of the Divine Light. The perverted ideas of the pagans referred these rays of light to their Sun-god and their Sabian worship.
But the true masonic idea of this glory is, that it symbolizes that Eternal Light of Wisdom which surrounds the Supreme Architect as with a sea of glory, and from him, as a common centre, emanates to the universe of his creation, and to which the prophet Ezekiel alludes in his eloquent description of Jehovah: “And I saw as the color of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from his loins even downward, I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.” (Chap. 1, ver. 27.)
Dante has also beautifully described this circumfused light of Deity:—
“There is in heaven a light whose goodly shine
Makes the Creator visible to all
Created, that in seeing him, alone
Have peace; and in a circle spreads so far,
That the circumference were too loose a zone
To girdle in the sun.”
On a recapitulation, then, of the views that have been advanced in relation to these three symbols of the Deity which are to be found in the masonic system, we may say that each one expresses a different attribute.
The letter G is the symbol of the self-existent Jehovah.
The All-Seeing Eye is the symbol of the omnipresent God.
The triangle is the symbol of the Supreme Architect of the Universe—the Creator; and when surrounded by rays of glory, it becomes a symbol of the Architect and Bestower of Light.
And now, after all, is there not in this whole prevalence of the name of God, in so many different symbols, throughout the masonic system, something more than a mere evidence of the religious proclivities of the institution? Is there not behind this a more profound symbolism, which constitutes, in fact, the very essence of Freemasonry? “The names of God,” said a learned theologian at the beginning of this century, “were intended to communicate the knowledge of God himself. By these, men were enabled to receive some scanty ideas of his essential majesty, goodness, and power, and to know both whom we are to believe, and what we are to believe of him.”
And this train of thought is eminently applicable to the admission of the name into the system of Masonry. With us, the name of God, however expressed, is a symbol of DIVINE TRUTH, which it should be the incessant labor of a Mason to seek.
The full text of the 1869 edition of Mackey’s “The Symbolism of Freemasonry” may be found at:Mackey’s Symbolism of Freemasonry