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Symbolical Masonry, by H.L. Haywood, [1923], at

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We come now to the Rite of the Mystic Journey wherein the candidate travels from the East to the West by way of the South, a ceremony of much interest and many meanings. How it found its way into our Ritual is, I believe, a mystery, though some have sought its origin in the Operative custom of leading the initiate from one station to another for examination; but this origin seems unreasonable because such a journey would have been conducted in a very different manner. It is more probable that Circumambulation ("walking around") is one of our inheritances from ancient times.

Primitive people firmly believed that they could wield influence over a god by imitating his actions. They believed the sun to be a god, or the visible embodiment of a god, who made a daily tour of the heavens, beginning in the east (in the northern hemisphere), and progressing toward the west by way of the south; it was most natural, therefore, that they should evolve a ceremony in imitation of this. Accordingly, in India, in Egypt, in Greece, and in Rome we early find the practice of circumambulation.

In Greece, the priest, or the priest leading the worshippers, would walk three times around the altar, always keeping it to the right, sprinkling it the while with meal and holy water. (See Mackey's "Symbolism," ch. 21.) The Romans employed a similar ceremony and called it

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[paragraph continues] "dextroversum," meaning "from the right to the left." Being so often used in connection with the rites whereby a person or an object was "purified," circumambulation became, after a time, the Roman equivalent of purification. Also "among the Hindoos," says Mackey, "the same rite of Circumambulation has always been practised," in illustration of which he cites the early morning ceremonies of a Brahmin priest who first adores the sun then walks towards the west by way of the south saying, "I follow the course of the sun." Mackey likewise refers to the Druids as having performed the same rite, and to the fact that even in recent years it has been a custom in the remoter portions of Ireland. Some have seen in the circular row of stones at Stonehenge a huge altar built for the purposes of Circumambulation, and others have seen in the various processions of the early Christian church an example of the same custom. It will be interesting, further, to note that the Greeks accompanied the journey with a sacred chant, divided into three parts, the strophe, the antistrophe, and the epode, on which Mackey makes a significant comment: "The analogy between the chanting of an ode by the ancients and the recitation of a passage of Scripture in the Masonic Circumambulation will be at once apparent."


What is the meaning of Circumambulation for us as Masons, and in our daily lives?

Circumambulation is sometimes understood, among older Masonic writers especially, as a symbol of the progress of Masonry itself, which, according to the old Legends, was supposed to have originated in the East, in Egypt more particularly. This is hinted at in certain of the Old Charges in which we find the following scrap

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of dialogue: "When did it [Masonry] begin? It did begin with the first men of the East."

Other writers, Pike among them, see in this symbolism a figure of the progress of the civilisation of humanity. Whether that civilisation began in Egypt as some argue, or in Babylonia as others contend, it did begin in the Orient and travelled thence, along the Mediterranean, to the Occident, for, "all knowledge, all religion, and all arts and sciences have travelled according to the course of the sun from east to west."

Again, some writers see in Circumambulation a drama of the development of the individual life, which begins in the young vigour of the Rising Sun, reaches its climax in the meridian splendour of the South, and declines to the old age of the West.

Pierson sees in it an analogy of the individual's Masonic progress ("Traditions of Freemasonry," ch. 2): "The Masonic symbolism is that the Circumambulation and the obstructions at the various points refer to the labours and difficulties of the student in his progress from intellectual darkness or ignorance to intellectual light or truth."


Yet again, others see in it an allegory of the pilgrimage of the soul through the shadows of this earth life. We are born in darkness and walk all our days in search of That which is Lost, "the lost harmony among the strings." Believing that somewhere there exists the Absolute Life we make a continual search and transform our days into a long Pilgrim's Progress.

These various interpretations, you will have observed, have their point of departure, one and all, in the thought that Circumambulation is a journey; with this one cannot

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quarrel, but may one not also be permitted to fashion an explanation which builds on the fact that the candidate walks in harmony with the sun? To my mind this is its point of greatest significance, even as it was evidently the original idea embodied. Let the sun represent the powers and laws of nature as in the ancient ceremonies: let Circumambulation be understood as an attempt to work in harmony with those powers and laws, and we see at once that the Rite gives us the secret of human accomplishment. To fight nature is suicide; to work in co-operation with her is power. To keep step with her cycles, to move in sympathy with her vibrations, that gives us fulness of life. The sailor clasps hands with her winds, the farmer adjusts himself to her chemic processes, the artist vibrates with the pulses of her beauty, the poet weaves her rhythms into his lines, the saint harmonises himself with her laws as they rise in the soul. It is thus and thus only that we mount the stairs to Life.

Next: Chapter XII. Approaching the East