Symbolical Masonry, by H.L. Haywood, , at sacred-texts.com
This portion of the ceremony has many things to tell us, which, for the sake of simplification, we may break into three divisions: (1) The Symbolism of the Cardinal Points; (2) Orientation; (3) The Meaning of the Candidate's Approach to the East.
Symbolism of the Cardinal Points, North, South, East and West. Mackey uses as an illustration of this the fact that the sun in its summer journey never passes north of 23° 28´, and that a wall built anywhere above that will have its northern side entirely in shadow even when the sun stands at his meridian. As this fact became known to early peoples it led them to look upon the North as the place of darkness. Accordingly, in all ancient mythologies, that portion of space was regarded with suspicion and even with terror. This prejudice was carried over into the Middle Ages, and traces of it, often dim and vague, survive to this day in popular customs. In his "Antiquities of Freemasonry," Fort writes that the "North by the Jutes was denominated black or sombre; the Frisians called it 'Fear corner.' The gallows faced North, and from these hyperborean shores beyond the North everything base and terrible proceeded." To the churchmen of mediæval times it carried a like sinister meaning, as we may read in "Animal Symbolism in Ecclesiastical Architecture" (E. P. Evans, p. 258): "The
north is the region of meterorological devils, which, under the dominion and leadership of the 'Prince of the power of the air' produce storms and convulsions in Nature and foster unruly passions and deeds of violence in man. The evil principle, as embodied in unclean beasts and exhibited in obscene and lascivious actions, was properly portrayed in the sculptures and paintings on the north side of the church, which was assigned to Satan and his satellites, and known as 'the black side.'" Milton connects Satan with the North, and Shakespeare speaks of demons "who are substitutes under the lonely monarch of the north." This cardinal point has a similar meaning in Masonry, and the portion of the lodge on the northern side should contain no furniture or lights.
By token of the same symbolic reasoning the South stands for all that is opposed to the North; in that direction the sun reaches his meridian to pour out light, warmth, and beauty. Accordingly, church builders of old time were wont to depict on the South wall of their churches the triumphs of Christianity, and the millennial reign of Christ. In the lodge the Corinthian column, type of beauty, is placed in the South at the station of the Junior Warden. It is the place of High Twelve, and the scene of the labours of the Craft.
As the West is the place of the sun's setting and of the closing of the day it stands for rest, for darkness, and for death. In Operative Lodges it was the place set apart for finished work. In Greek mythology it was the place of Hades, that is, darkness and death. As we may read in Sophocles
Tennyson makes Arthur to go into the West and Ulysses to travel beyond the baths of the setting sun; and at this day, it is said, soldiers in the trenches of Europe speak of a dead comrade as having "gone West." To the West all men come at last, men and Masons, to the beautiful, tender West, and lay them down in the sleep that knows no waking.
If there is one symbol that recurs again and again in our Blue Lodge Ritual, like a musical refrain, it is the East; of this I almost despair to speak, save in crudest outline, so rich and so many-sided is the truth enshrined in it. As the centre of gravity is to the earth, and all things thereon, so is the East to a Masonic Lodge; the Master sits there, the representative of a complete humanity; the Blazing Star shines there, the mystic "G" at the centre of the rays; it is the bourne, the goal, the ultimate destination, towards which the whole Craft moves. How it came to have this significance for early societies, as well as for our own may be made clear as we turn our attention to Orientation.
In early Egypt, as Norman Lockyer tells us in his "Dawn of Astronomy," the most brilliant of all works on Orientation, and as authoritative as it is readable, it was the custom to dedicate a temple to some planet or star, to the moon in one of her phases, or to the sun at one of his various periods. Originally, perhaps, a majority of the temples were dedicated to the rising sun; in that event the building was so situated that on a given day in the year the light of the sun would pass between the pillars at the entrance and fall upon the altar at the moment of his first appearance above the horizon. This placing of the temple so as to face the dawn gave rise to the term "Orientation," which means "finding the
east." However, other temples were directed toward the moon or some star, and this also, by an accommodation of language, was called Orientation. The term was further used, in after days, when a building or a city was laid out in harmony with the cardinal points; according to this usage the City of Rome was oriented, for its first form was a quadrangle with a gate facing in each direction. ("A.Q.C.," vol. iv, p. 87.) This custom was practised by the Jews, and indeed may be considered as universal throughout the ancient world. Moreover it was carried over into Christian customs, for all the early churches were oriented to the sun, the Apostolic Constitutions specifying that a church must be "an oblong form, and directed to the east."
Inasmuch as the orienting of a temple was chiefly for the purpose of permitting the light to fall on its altar on a given day, the altar was necessarily placed in the west end of the building. This arrangement must also have been often used by the Jews, even though they did reverse so many "heathen" customs, for Dr. Wynn Westcott tells us that, "It is clear that both Mosaic Tabernacle and the Temple of Solomon had the Holy Place at the west." But, he goes on to say, and this is a point especially deserving of our attention, "it is equally certain that churches from the earliest Christian development have always reversed the positions when possible." This is to say that, though Christian houses of worship were placed east and west as heathen temples had been, they were built with their altars in the east end instead of in the west. It is from the Christian churches of Mediæval times, perhaps, that the Operative Masons derived their practice of placing the Master's station in the East.
The pagans saw in the sun a symbol of Deity, its rays an emblem of the Divine forth-shining; accordingly they had the sun, or a representation of the sun, in the East.
[paragraph continues] We also worship a Deity whom we have clothed with Light, but in our East is no longer the natural sun, or even a representation thereof, but a man, the Master. To my mind this is a thing of significance, though I can not place the weight of the name of any one of our authorities behind the interpretation. Ancient peoples, like ourselves, were in search of God, even as are we. They hoped to find Him in nature, among the things that He had made, even as the Wise Men followed a star in their search for Him; but whereas they went "through Nature to God," we go "through man to God," and believe that His completest unveiling will be found in the perfected human soul, even as the Master of Masters said, "He that hath seen ME hath seen the Father."
If this interpretation of the East is valid, as I believe that it is, the candidate's "approach to the East" is a symbolic art of far-reaching meaning, for it signifies nothing less than that he has tuned his will toward the perfecting of his own human nature in order to enter into communion with the Divine; if he is compelled to advance by a certain regulated manner it is in token of the fact that the soul itself is a realm of law and that he who would reach the soul's highest development must walk in harmony with the spirit's laws; and if, in the succeeding degrees, his manner of approach approximates more and more toward a perfect step it is in recognition of the necessity of gradual and orderly progress in the highest growth. Always and everywhere, in whatever condition or task a man finds himself, if he would "go up into the seer's house," he must mount by those virtues of Purity, Beauty, and Truth which are the hidden laws of the heart.