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Why Symbols?

Just finished reading Inner Christianity by Richard Smoley (which is a great book, by the way.) He touches on topics that are relevant and insightful, especially if you are a Christian who has always felt like something (or many somethings) are missing or glossed over in the contemporary traditions.


In this book, there are several parts that deal with the use of symbols, and how they help someone transcend planes of existence through spiritual means, or to allow their meanings to naturally come to you in moments of quiet introspection. Symbols, and their use in the esoteric aspects of Christianity, according to Smoley, help people to reach a deeper connection with different levels of existence which are whispered about in the traditional books of the Christian Bible.


Image by Fabrizio Verrecchia

So why are symbols so important to the education of the inner being? Stepping outside the conversation of symbols used in comprehending esoteric Christian thinking, they are also used, in vast numbers, in Masonic instruction and ritual. They represent both intrinsic and extrinsic messages communicated to initiates and long time members, for the purpose of teaching Freemasons the proper conduct of a person, and to engender a closer connection with their Creator.


But again, why symbols? Because symbols are the primary means by which mankind observes, learns and comprehends the universe, and his or her place in it. Symbols transcend words and language; their meanings can be gleaned by people of differing languages. Symbols allow people to use different aspects of their nature to learn and probe and dig deeper into the underlying music of the world.


Symbols burst past the barriers of time, and allow those who want to learn and grow and experience the common truths inherent in humanity. Language and words can never do this. Over time, words lose their meaning, they lose their power. Languages do a terrible disservice to the meaning behind ideas and concepts expressed far in the past. Most religions suffer from this plight, the meaning and symbolism of words in their sacred texts changed and modified over the centuries.


Let's take one simple Christian (and Masonic) concept: that of the three principle tenets of Faith, Hope, and Charity. Both the Bible and Freemasonry have misinterpreted the concept of Charity (or Love as we shall see), as it is described in the 1st Letter of Paul to the Corinthians. In doing so, they have distorted a very fundamental concept in the understanding of the charge given to us by our Creator.


In the King James Version of the Holy Bible, the 13th verse reads: "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." The New International Version reads: "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." An even older translation of the Bible, the Geneva Bible of the 1560s, originally ended with: "And now abideth faith, hope and love, even these three: but the chiefest of these is love."


So is it love, or charity? Strangely enough, its both, but the words love and charity mean so much less than the original word these verses stem from. The original Greek version of the Letter uses the word agape (or αγάπη). The Greek language has many words for the concept of love; eros means romantic love, philos means friendship or kinship, and storge is the love of parents and children, or siblings.


Agape is different. Agape is the love of God for man and man for his Creator. Its is unconditional love; it cares not for familial bond, circumstance, or internal feelings. It transcends emotional love, exceeds it, surpasses the childish ways we express it. This type of love means more than any piece of ritual, or any page on a book can accurately describe. It does encompass charity, but it is a charity that comes from a oneness with all humanity, as opposed to a desire to bring joy, food, or money to the sad, hungry, and poor. Agape has no preconditions, and it does not require anything in return.


We lose this symbolism when words lose their meaning. How much different would we discuss this verse if we understood, deep down, what the word really means. With the change (or mistranslation) from love to charity in the 1600s, and the reversal back to love, the original meaning was diminished each and every time.


Symbols, once properly understood and meditated upon, do not lose meaning like words do. They remain powerful over the centuries and millennia. They impart lessons to those who take the time to study them, and they help us learn (or in actuality, re-learn) ideas about humanity that have remained buried in darkness. As we continue our existence in this world, one that becomes more impersonal and separated and cold to the blessings bestowed on us, we would do well to take a bit more time to delve back into the past, and relearn what these symbols mean to us, and to humankind.


~~ FDTL ~~




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