We come now to the crux and the climax of Blue Lodge symbolism, the master symbol by means of which all other symbols have their meaning. Well will it be for us to walk warily, here, not only because the origins of the symbolism of the Lost Word are hound up with an ancient and tangled tradition and, not only because it has been so often prostituted to the level of magic and superstition, even in recent times, but also because it is the embodiment of one of those ideas so high and so deep that they contain whole systems of philosophy and theology within them. It is like the "flower in the crannied wall" of Tennyson's poem; if we could understand it, "root and all, all in all," we would know "what God and man is."
Much has been written about the "Mason's word" as employed in old days, when brethren were sometimes "made Mason" by having that secret term entrusted to them; research has failed to show what this word was though some scholars believe it to have been that sovereign name which stands at the centre of one of the Higher Grades. Some who hold to this last-named theory would have us believe that this transfer of the word from the Blue Lodge to that degree was so disastrous to the symbolic structure of the Blue Lodge that to patch up the damage a substitute word was devised to take its place until the candidate passed on to the higher grade. But as there is little or no evidence to prove that the great word of the degree is the same as the "Mason's Word" of the old lodges that theory must be left suspended in the mid-air of conjecture.
For my own part - and I can speak here for no other - I can not believe that the Blue Lodge system was ever rifled of its chiefest treasure to grace the forehead of a "higher" grade nor can I see why we should think that the Third Degree, just as it is, has lost the one key to its mysteries. The search for a lost word is not the search for a mere vocable of a few letters which one might write down on a piece of paper; it is the seeking for a truth, nay, a set of truths, a secret of life, and that secret truth is so clearly set forth in the Hiram Abiff drama that one is led to wonder why anybody should suppose that it had ever been lost. "The Lost Word" does not refer, so it seems to me, to any term once in possession of the Third Degree and accidentally lost, but rather it denotes the ancient Tetragrammaton, or "fourlettered name," for which search has been made these two and a half millenniums.
According to a very old tradition (how much actual history may be in it we cannot know) the Legend of the Tetragrammaton goes back to ancient Israel as far as the time of Exile. Like all people of that day the Jews saw in a person's name not a mere handy cognomen whereby a man be addressed but a kind of sign standing for the personality of the one who bore it. Jacob was Jacob because he actually had been a "supplanter," as that name means; and he later became Israel because he grew to be a "prince of God." Jacob's name was a revelation of his character. So was it with all names. Therefore was it that the ancients held proper names in a reverence difficult for us to understand, as is hinted in an old Chaldean oracle
"Never change native Names;
For there are names in every nation, God-given,
Of unexplained power in the Mysteries."
Bearing this in mind we can understand why the Jews threw about the name of Deity the wrappings of secrecy and sanctity. At first, after the dread secret had been imparted to Moses, the people pronounced the name in whispers or not at all. They were bidden never to use it except on the most solemn occasions as witness the Third Commandment which reads, when literally translated, "Thou shalt not utter the name of thy God idly." As time went on the priests forbade them to do more than hint at it, one of the priestly commands in Leviticus reading, "He that pronounceth the Name of the Lord distinctly, shall be put to death." (Ch. 24, V. 16) At last, only the High Priest was permitted to utter the Name at all, and then on some great occasion, such as the day of Atonement. At the same time, it must be remembered, the Jews were using no vowels in their writing; for some strange reason only consonants were ever transcribed, therefore only the four consonants, JHWH, were ever seen.
When the Jews were taken into Exile, all traces of the true pronounciation was lost, either because the High Priest was killed before he could impart it or died in Babylonia before a successor entitled to the secret could be found. Consequently, the Exile was no sooner ended than priests and scribes began their search for the Lost Name. The four consonants only did they have; what the vowels were nobody could learn, nor has anybody since discovered, at least according to the Legend.
This Tetragrammaton became a storm-center of theology and around it a great mass of symbolism gradually accumulated. So deeply did it sink into the imagination of Israel that the later theosophists who built up the speculative system we call the Kabbala made it the very core of their teaching; and through the Kabbala, the literature of which was so popular even as late as Reformation times, the legends of the Lost Name made its way into the thought and Literature of Medieval Europe.
But the form of the legend did not always remain the same; "now it is a spoiled sanctuary; now a sacramental mystery; now the abandonment of a great military and religious order; now the age-long frustrations of the greatest building plan which was ever conceived; now the lost word of Kabbalism; now the vacancy of the most holy of all sanctuaries." Whatever the disguise the quest was always the same, a search for something strangely precious which men believed had been lost out of the world but might be found again.
This wonderful symbolic idea still retains its power to cast a spell over us, as witness its use by modern writers. Eugene Sue incorporated it in his haunted tale, "The Wandering Jew." Tennyson wove it into his Arthur epic, where it has assumed the form of the search for the Lost Grail, the cup used by the Lord at His Last Supper. Henry Van Dyke has embodied it in his book of stories, "The Blue Flower," and Maurice Maeterlinck has woven about it a strangely beautiful drama, "The Blue Bird."
Shall we not add to that list the drama of the Third Degree? Surely, "that which was lost" can refer to nothing else, as the evidence, both internal and external, so abundantly seems to show. If that indeed be the case how it does light up with prophetic meaning the whole mystery of the Third Degree: for it shows that the candidate is not on a hunt for a mystic term to be used like a magic spell, still less is it some mysterious individual that he seeks. That for which he really searches is to discover the divine in himself and in the world.
Going out to find God we need not wonder
when he finds no one word, or one thing, to reward his labors;
nor need we be disappointed if he is "put off with a substitute,"
for though his search is not fruitless it is not altogether successful,
as is fitting when we recall that the complete unveiling of God
cannot come to any man in any one lifetime. That hope must ever
remain an ideal to us humans in the shadow of our earth life -
a flying Ideal, eluding us while it beckons us, leading us over
the hills of Time into the tireless searchings of Eternity.
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