Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Ashlar as a prediciton of Co-masonry?
Another possible interpretation of the Ashlar is that it is a prediction of co-masonry. This is perhaps the most controversial interpretation of the Ashlar I came across. Again, comments are always welcome.
VIII The Ashlar as a prediction of Co-masonry
This view considers the shape of the Ashlar to represent the future acceptance of women into the Masonic Fraternity. First, however, a brief examination of the standard rectangular form of the Ashlar is necessary for understanding this interpretation.
One of the most common shapes the Ashlar takes is that of a three-dimensional rectangular block, or oblong. The Short Talk Bulletin published by the Masonic Service Association describes an Ashlar as “…more than twice as long as wide and high.” This is the common silhouette we see in most American Lodges. Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry cites evidence from the great English architect Christopher Wren to support this representation: “In Sir Christopher Wren's use of "ashlar" the stone had a dimension of 1 x 1 x 2 feet; and many building records, some of them very old, mention similar dimensions.” Jeremy Cross is perhaps most responsible for this generally accepted shape here in the U.S. In 1819, Cross published a book illustrating common Masonic symbols. This book, the True Masonic Chart or Hieroglyphic Monitor, gained wide approval and Cross’s interpretation of the shape of the Ashlars became the “…standard design for American Masonic symbolism,” according to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum of our National Heritage. The Museum published a review of Masonic symbols in American decorative arts. In this review, the topic concerns the shape of the Ashlars:
…a uniform American system of symbolism was first established in published form by Jeremy Cross in his Masonic Chart, published in 1819. Earlier publications like Prestons’ Illustrations of Freemasonry and Thomas Smith Webb’s Freemason Monitor, had explained the meanings of the symbols but provided no description or illustration of their designs. Webb did not approve of the use of emblems to illustrate Masonic works, reflecting the greater secretiveness of the early fraternity. Cross made an important contribution to Masonic symbolism by including actual illustrations of the symbols…
The oblong is not the only shape one may find of the Ashlar. A cube is often used and in France, the pierre-cubique is common. A pierre-cubique is a cube with the top of a pyramid. The pierre-cubique with an axe embedded in its top is an older example of the diversity of shapes one may find. There is a lively debate in scholarly Masonic journals regarding the historically correct shape of the Ashlar. My purpose here is simply to present a brief glimpse of the topic as an introduction to this symbolic interpretation of the Ashlars.
As a prediction of co-masonry, we are assuming the Ashlar is in the form of an oblong, or a double cube. Henry Parsell explains the basic argument for this interpretation:
Curiously enough, the Ashlars ordinarily in use in Lodges are not Cubic Stones, but are more usually Double Cubes, or nearly so. The symbolism of this is prophetic, for the Double Cube represents the future state when twin-souls shall be united…
Parsell claims that the oblong Ashlar is actually two separate cubes, joined together. Each cube is symbolic of the male and the female. Joining the two represents reunification of the sexes into a more unified whole. Parsell continues:
…it is an indication that at a not so distant period Woman will be admitted to our Lodges and be given the same courteous consideration and instruction in its Symbolism as she is now more and more receiving in the business and political world of today.
Parsell’s interpretation is not widely accepted, however the uniqueness of his view merits consideration, especially as an example of the diversity of this allegedly basic Masonic symbol.