The Tetragrammaton

The following monitorial instructions on the Tetragrammaton from the Royal Arch Degree appear on pp. 138 and 142-145 of “The Book of the Chapter” by Albert G. Mackey.

The following passage of Scripture is read as explanatory of an important mystery:

“And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the Lord: and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty; but by my name Jehovah was I not known to them.” — Exodus 6:2-3.

The High Priest will then invest the candidates with an important secret of the degree, which should always be accompanied with an explanatory lecture.

The name of God, which we, at a venture, pronounce Jehovah—and which is called the “Tetragrammaton,” (from the Greek tetra, four, and gramma, letter,) because it consists in Hebrew of four letters, and the “Ineffable name,” because it was unlawful to pronounce it, was ever held by the Jews in the most profound veneration. They claim to have 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. This communication was first made at. the Burning Bush, when God said to the Jewish lawgiver: “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, when he said: “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.”

Ushered to their notice by the utmost solemnity and religious consecration, this name of God became invested among the Israelites with the profoundest veneration and awe. To add to this mysticism, the Kabbalists, by the change of a single letter in the original, read the passage which is, “this is my name forever,” as if it had been written, “this is my name to be concealed.”

This interpretation, though founded on an error, and probably 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 that 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 always translated by the word “Lord.” The use of this word being thus abandoned, its pronunciation was ultimately lost, since by the peculiar construction of the Hebrew language, which is entirely without vowel letters, the vocal sounds being supplied to the ear by oral teaching, the consonants, which alone constitute the alphabet, can, in their combination, give no possible indication, to one who has not heard it before, of the true pronounciation of any given word.

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 through his predecessor, preserved the recollection of the sound by pronouncing it three times, once a year, on the day of 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 sometimes 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. The Kabbalists and Talmudists have enveloped this ineffable name of God in a host of mystical superstitions, most of which are as absurd as they are incredible, but all of them tend 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 call it “shem hamphorash,” that is to say, “the name that was declared,” and they assert that David found it engraved on a stone while digging into the earth.

Besides the tetragrammaton or ineffable word, there are many varieties of the name which have been adopted with almost equal veneration among other nations of antiquity, of which the three following may be offered as instances.

1. Jah. This was the name of God in the Syrian language, and is still retained in some of the Syriac forms of doxology. It is to be found in the 68th Psalm, verse 4: “Extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name Jah,” and also in the Song of Moses (Exodus 15:2), where in the original it is “Jah is my strength and my song.”

2. Bel. This was the name of God among many of the eastern nations, and particularly among the Chaldeans. It is also frequently met with in Scripture when allusion is made to the idolatrous worship of the Pagan nations.

3. On. This was one of the names by which God was worshipped by the Egyptians. It is also alluded to in the sacred writings, as when we are told that Pharaoh gave Joseph for his wife, “Asenath, the daughter of Poti-pherah, priest of On.” (Genesis 41:45.)

Now all these names of God, which, with many others to be found in the ineffable degrees of masonry, make up a whole system, are eminently symbolical. In fact, the name of God must be taken, in Freemasonry, as the symbol of TRUTH, and then the search for it will be nothing but the search after truth, which is the true end and aim of the masonic science of symbolism. The subordinate names are subordinate modifications of truth, but the ineffable tetragrammaton is the symbol of the sublimity and perfection of divine truth, to which all good masons and all good men are seeking to advance, whether it be by the aid of the theological ladder, or by passing between the pillars of Strength and Establishment, or by wandering in darkness, beset on all sides by dangers, or by traveling, weary and worn, over rough and rugged roads—whatever be the direction of our journey, or how accomplished, light and truth, the Urim and Thummim, are the ultimate objects of our search and our labor as Freemasons. [See Mackey’s Lexicon of Freemasonry, where the words “Jehovah” and “Name of God” will be found to contain information interesting to the Royal Arch Mason.]

The Triangular Plate of Gold.

The equilateral triangle was adopted by nearly all the nations of antiquity as a symbol of the Deity. The Egyptians, for instance, considered it as the representative of the great principle of animated existence. Among the Hebrews it was often used as a symbol of the tetragrammaton, and in masonry it retains the same signification, being the symbol of the Grand Architect of the Universe and Bestower of Light, its three sides representing the Past, the Present, and the Future, all of which are contained in the eternal existence of Jehovah.

The full text of Mackey’s monitorial instructions on the Royal Arch degree may be found at:

Royal Arch from Mackey’s “The Book of the Chapter”