The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, , at sacred-texts.com
The symbols, forming the proper subject of the present enquiry, embodied in their origin the deepest mysteries of Brahminical theosophy; they were eagerly accepted by the subtile genius of the Alexandrine school and applied to the hidden wisdom of Egypt; and lastly, in their captivating and illusory promise of enlightenment, the few bright spirits of the Middle Ages sought for something better than the childish fables, engendered by monkery upon the primal Buddhistic stock, which then constituted the Faith: and these holy figurations still continue to flourish, but only as the insignia and mummery of what, at best a mere charitable, is perhaps only a convivial association. In the same way Apollo's golden Pentagon, which of yore blazed on high above the Delphic shrine, in the Middle Ages the badge of the proudest Order of Chivalry, and a sure defence from peril of lightning and fire, has come at last to be degraded into the mere sign of a German pothouse!
A Master-Mason of the very highest degree lately informed me that he had detected the Signs now in use, engraved amongst the sculptures in the Cave-temples of Elephanta; and, what is still more important, that, although the Brahmins are Masons, yet if a European makes the Sign to them, they immediately put their hands up before their eyes, as if to shut out the sight of the profanation of things holy. But this curious fact can be explained with the utmost certainty. The Dionysiac Mysteries, the most popular of all in Greece, were believed to have been introduced direct from Syria, and necessarily brought along with them all the signs and rites of their birth-place. The painted vases of the period of the Decadence, of the fourth and third centuries before our sera, take for their favourite subject scenes from the celebration of these Mysteries, and in these pictures, mystic
[paragraph continues] Siglæ perpetually recur, amongst which the Fylfot shines conspicuous. But in truth, all the ancient Mysteries came from the East, as their names, the Phrygian, the Mithraic, the Iliac, declare, and these Mysteries existed publicly almost to the close of the Roman Empire, and how much further down into mediæval times they existed as secret and prohibited things, it is impossible to decide.
From the very nature of things we may be certain that their signs and symbols, after the esoteric doctrines were forgotten, passed into the repertory of all "who used curious arts," the alchymists, astrologers, and wizards of the Dark Ages, and then became the property of Rosicrucians, who truly were the parent stock, and not a recent brand (as is now pretended) of the present Freemasons. *
A most important contribution to the history of Masons’ marks has (1877) been obtained through the researches of Sig. Arnoaldi Veli amongst the Gallic cemeteries around Bologna. Many of the vases there exhumed bear Siglæ upon their bases, more rarely upon their sides, which are unmistakably of the same nature, and, what is more curious, are constructed on the same principle as those used by the regular stone-mason at this very day.
Those in Class A (see Veli's Scavi presso Bologna) may be considered as of the highest authority, because they are the actual stamps of the potter, impressed upon the clay before baking. That they distinguished individuals, and were not merely religious symbols, but stood for the proper names of people unacquainted with writing may be inferred not only from the established custom of antiquity in this respect, but from the much more frequent occurrence of the class, of which he gives examples in list B. These are scratched upon the bases after baking, and therefore must have been added by the
buyers, not by the makers. The great variety in the forms of these latter siglæ sufficiently proves that they were the "marks" of private persons, not of clans or tribes. Class C, of similar "marks" engraved upon articles of metal, lead irresistibly to the same conclusion. It must, however, be observed that although these characters cannot be distinguished at first sight from the modern Masons’ Marks of which I have given specimens in the large Plate, it appears upon examination that no care has been taken to make them end in an odd number of points--the guiding rule with the modern craft.
To come from the Cisalpine to the Western Gauls, some evidence of the same practice is deducible from their coins. The large billon pieces, evident copies of Alexander's tetradrachms, found so plentifully in the Channel Islands, often bear a figure, upon the cheek of the Hercules’ head, and repeated in the field of the reverse. What can these symbols, placed so prominently to catch the eye, have been intended for, but to inform the world what particular tribe of the confederation using one national type had issued the coin thus distinguished? There is some analogy to this in the Greek series, where distant cities use the type of Athens, or Corinth, but make it their own by placing some appropriate symbol in the field. We need not, however, carry out this theory to the same fanciful length as does the Baron Donop, who, struck by the evident resemblance of these figures to the Hindoo Caste marks, builds upon it a complete history of the migration of the Aryans into Jersey; and points out the Puranic deities to whom each of such symbols is to be referred. Of these figures, again, a great variety, and much better executed, are to be seen in the field of the pretty hemi-drachms of Solimara; which, as well as those above mentioned, belong to the times immediately preceding Cæsar's conquest of Gaul--a date clearly ascertained from that of the Roman denarii often forming part of the same deposits. Of the continued use of these "Marks" under the Roman rule in Gaul some vestiges are still to be discovered. The "Pile Cinq-Mars" which cuts so ludicrous a figure in Rabelais' description of Garagantua's horse, is a lofty quadrangular column, ending in a point, in the most compact
and skilfully executed brickwork, apparently built within the first century of the Empire. Upon each face, towards the top, are wrought in bricks of different colour from the main structure various devices of the same sort as those of the coins. These can be nothing else than the "armorial bearings," of the several cities or tribes that had combined together for the erection of so costly a monument; which we may safely suppose intended for one of those "plurima simulacra" of Mercury which Cæsar noticed in Gaul, and which forms the intermediate link between the upright stones (menhirs) roughly cut into a phallic shape at top, of the uncivilised aborigines; and the grand Colossus of Zenodorus, to which native taste had advanced by the time of Nero.
A lucky accident has thrown in my way another, and much more curious proof of the use of these "marks" by the more barbarous part of the Celts at a much later period. That the decoration of the skin which gave the name to the "Picts" consisted in stigmata in the literal sense of the word, and not in mere dyeing with woad (like the early Britons), is made out by Claudian's definite expression,
"The Book of Kells" is a MS., written some time in the ninth century. In one of the facsimiles of its pages published by the Palæographical Society, amongst the ornamentation of one vast initial letter, the most conspicuous is the figure of a naked man, writhing himself amongst its most intricate convolutions. This man's body is entirely covered with "marks" of various forms; and from the circumstances under which the drawing was made we can safely assume that we have here preserved to us the portrait of a true Pict, taken from the life. The four centuries that had elapsed since Claudian wrote were not likely to have changed the customs of a country so remote, and in which the small amount of civilisation derivable from its Romanised neighbours must have gone backwards in proportion as they relapsed into their pristine barbarism. This pictured Pict may also lead us to conclude that the sigil
seen upon the cheek of the Jersey Hercules was actually tattooed upon that of the Gaul who issued the coin.
Out of deference to the popular belief in the Masonic Brand mark, I shall wind up this section with a few observations upon that most time-honoured method of distinguishing those initiated into any mystic community. To give precedence to the Patron Saint of Freemasons, St. John the Divine, his making the followers of the Beast receive his Mark "upon the forehead and the palm of the hand," is a clear allusion to the Mithraical practice, of which Augustine (as already quoted) speaks, in mentioning "a certain Demon, that will have his own image purchased with blood." Ptolemy Philopator, whom Plutarch describes as "passing his sober hours in the celebration of Mysteries, and in beating a tambourine about the palace," submitted also to receive the Dionysiac brand-marks; which were, no doubt, those symbols so plentifully introduced into the vase-paintings of Bacchanalian rites. "Brand-marks," however, is an incorrect name for such insignia, for they were imprinted on the skin, not by fire, but by the milder process of Tattooing, as we learn incidentally from Vegetius (I. cap. 8), and also that it was the regular practice in the Roman army, in his day, the close of the fourth century. He advises that the recruit be not tattooed with the devices of the standards (Punctis signorum inscribendus est) until he has been proved by exercises as to whether he be strong enough for the service. That these tattoo marks were the distinctive badges painted on the shields of the different legions, may be inferred from their insertion in the epitaphs of individuals of each corps.
428:* The Jews have a tradition that the boards of the Tabernacle were marked with Hebrew letters, as a guide for their adjustment in the setting up of that migratory Temple. Writing, therefore, becomes one of the thirty-two works interdicted to every religious Jew upon the Sabbath day. It is a singular coincidence that the stones of the Wall of Servius Tullius at Rome are inscribed with Mason's marks that much resemble Phœnician letters.