SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol.VI January, 1928 No.1
One of the hidden, or "covered" symbols of Freemasonry is found in
the many references to time.
The Entered Apprentice is given a twenty-four inch gauge as his
working tool and with it taught to divide his time.
The Entered Apprentice must wait a certain time before taking his
The Fellowcraft is reminded of the time required for creation, and
the function of geometry as to time is emphasized; "by it, also, the
astronomer is enabled to make his observations and the fix the
duration of time and seasons, years and cycles." He is also made to
realize that there are three principal causes which contribute to
destruction; the hand of ignorance, the devastations of war and the
lapse of time.
The Fellowcraft must wait a period of time before he may receive his
Master Mason Degree.
As a Master Mason he is reminded of the passage of time in the
reading from Ecclesiastes; emphasis is put upon the journey from "the
days of thy youth" to that hour when "shall the dust return to the
earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it."
In the prayer use in the Sublime Degree we hear: "Man that is born
of woman is of a few days and full of trouble. He cometh forth like
a flower and is cut down; he fleeth also as a shadow and continueth
not. Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months is
with thee; thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass; turn
from him that he may rest, till he shall accomplish his day.
Master Masons are taught from the Scriptures of the length of time
required to construct the Temple of Solomon. The three steps on the
Master's carpet are of youth, manhood and old age; of which, as we
have seen, the three degrees as a whole are symbols.
The hour glass, an instrument used for the measurement of time, is
one of the symbols discussed in the lecture of the Sublime Degree.
"The Scythe is an emblem of time, which cuts the brittle thread of
life and launches us into eternity. Behold! What havoc the scythe
of time makes among the human race. If by chance we should escape
the numerous evils incident to childhood and youth, and with health
and vigor arrive at the years of manhood, yet withal, we must soon be
cut down by the all-devouring scythe of time and be gathered into the
land where our fathers have gone before us."
There are many more references to time; high twelve and low twelve,
the calling from labor to refreshment, the return to labor in due
season, and the hour glass will occur to all.
With the exception of the small paragraph quoted above, however,
explanatory of the scythe as an emblem of time, there is neither
monitorial nor secret explanation of time as a symbol. Yet surely it
is used as such, when so many references are made to it . . . nor can
we be content with the thought that, as time is so important to us
all, it could not entirely be left out in the making of the Degrees
of the Order!
What is time? No man knoweth! The very philosophers who "explain
it" confess the inadequacy of their explanations. We know of a past,
possess a present and hope for a future. If the past is dead and
gone, it yet influences our present. If the future is only a hope,
it is yet the treasure box of all our lives, for which we strive
endlessly. The only part of time we have, the immediate now, is
always the least important of all!
Objects have length, breadth, thickness. They also have a duration.
The "instantaneous cube" cannot exist; we can have no conception of
anything, material or spiritual, which does not have some length of
time of existence. Some mathematicians speak of time as the fourth
dimension of matter, and Einstein's theories, but the General and the
Special, are concerned with a something which is neither space not
time, but a blend or combination of both.
The only measurement of time we know is finite; the revolution of the
earth about its axis and about the sun, or any other heavenly body
movement, is our only means of measurement of duration. We can
expand it into "light years" or contract it with split-second
watches, but all our measurement is founded upon a purely finite,
Infinite time is a phrase, not a concept. The human mind cannot
conceive of endless time. We say "as it was in the beginning, and
ever shall be." But the words contradict themselves, for anything
which "ever shall be" must always have been, and therefore could not
of had a beginning. Whether we think of time, or a piece of string,
we cannot conceive it as having only one end!
We conceive ourselves as moving along in time, from birth to death,
over a path which we divide into milestones of years, days, hours,
and minutes; all multiples or divisors of that which elapses between
sun and sun. Yet the human mind reels at the thought of travel
forward which does not have something behind, or which does not
approach something. If there was no beginning to leave behind, if
there is no end toward which we go, are we really traveling through
time, or is time a vast wheel, merely sweeping around and around us?
Men fool themselves. In all ages and times past, men have told
themselves fairy tales and believed them. Our remote ancestors
watched the fall of a rock and believed in the anger of the stone;
they heard in the growl of the thunder the rage of some mighty hidden
being; they saw in the lighting flash which killed, the righteous
wrath of a power unguessed.
But a few hundred years ago, an eclipse of the sun was a portent of
evil, a comet in the sky a sure sign of pestilence, the earth was
flat and mariners need beware lest they fall off the edge.
What we do not understand we ascribe to the supernatural, in spite of
the experience of science and the teachings of history. A savage
mind finds a telephone a miracle.
It behooves us to think careful and make up our minds slowly. Every
day we find the "knowledge" of yesterday was not knowledge but
fiction. Our atoms are no longer atomic, our matter is no longer
matter, our space is no longer of three dimensions, our astronomy is
as different to-day from what it was twenty years ago, as that was
from Copernicus' day.
We no longer "lay on hands," or prescribe the leech and bloodletting
for disease; we no longer withhold water from the fevered or air from
the pneumonia patient. Disease is no longer a visitation from on
high but a matter of germs, from the earth. The pestilence which was
once the work of Satin is now located in a drain pipe or a swamp.
We have certain concepts today which we believe to be absolute facts,
despite that fact that we demonstrate there is no absolute! Only a
short while ago the philosopher's stone, the elixir of life and
perpetual motion were demonstrated impossibilities. Now our
scientists talk rationally of the possibilities of transmutation of
metals, our surgeons talk of renewed youth through transferred
glands, and for all we know to the contrary some man may arise with a
new theory of energy, "A La Einstein," of space and time, in which
the self-mover may actually function.
It does not do to be too certain of anything. The open mind is the
only one into which new thoughts may come. There is no absolute; the
fact of today is the fiction of yesterday; the romance of tomorrow
becomes the experience of today, when tomorrow comes.
Time is the most familiar fact of our lives. Every man carries a
watch. We get up, eat, work, make love, marry, have children, join
Masonic Lodges, die and bury our dead; according to a schedule of
Yet this very familiar fact; this thing which is as much a part of
our lives as our bodies; this commonplace, everyday, utterly usual
matter is the most mysterious, most unknown, most completely
unsolvable finite mystery about us!
Is time then, in a Freemason's Lodge, not a symbol of Deity? We
believe that The Great Architect of the Universe is a part of our
daily lives. We thank God for labor; we praise God for love; we
marry under the blessing of Deity, christen our children with His
Word, join Masonic Lodges erected to God, die in the hope of His
Immortality, and bury our dead with the Sprig of Acacia, its symbol;
and yet this familiar fact, this idea which is as much a part of our
daily lives as our souls, is our most mysterious, most unknown most
completely unsolvable infinite mystery.
Time, puzzle never solved of man's mind; God, puzzle never solved of
man's soul! The conclusion seems inescapable that the many
references to time in Freemasonry, the insistence upon time as a
factor in the Degrees, and in what they teach of life, was no
fortuitous circumstance, no mere unwitting bringing of the life of
everyday into the ritual of our degrees, but a great symbol of Deity
and our complete dependence upon Him; a symbol teaching that as our
lives are inextricably mingled with God; a hope, a faith, but a
concept never to be understood in this world.
"SO MOTE IT BE"