“I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle,
and the olive tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the
pine, and the box tree together:”
The symbolism of the acacia, or evergreen is well-known as a Masonic Lodge Symbol throughout Freemasonry. It was planted to mark the spot of the burial of a celebrated artist important to Masonic teachings. A sprig of evergreen is used by the Funeral Master during every Masonic funeral ceremony. The shittim-wood that was reputedly used by the children of Israel in the construction of Moses’ Tabernacle, as well as is the building of the Ark of the Covenant is a species of the acacia. Being a thorny tamarisk, it also grew around the dead body of Osiris in the Egyptian legend and constituted the crown of thorns crushed to the brow of the Christ during his Passion. In all of those events, the acacia represented immortality, because of its tenacity of life. Without question, the tamarisk was extraordinarily difficult to kill.
The ancients identified the acacia with the more sensitive plant known as the mimosa. A Coptic legend informs us that the mimosa was the first of all trees and shrubs to actually worship the Christ. Indeed, some of the early fathers of Christianity used the tree to symbolize the Christ. As such, the ancients meant to convey the notion that trees, plants and shrubs were living, breathing life forms that were animated with the Divine Light.
Trees are often mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments, as well as in the writings of the so-called pagans. As examples, we find messages about creation hidden with such symbols as the Tree of Life, which represents the spiritual point of balance or equilibrium, and the Tree of Knowledge, which represents polarity in the form of good and evil. Moses heard the voice of God emanating from a burning bush. Buddha received his illumination while under the bodhi tree and the consecrated rod of Hermes was nothing more than a type of tree.
Philosophers and priests were frequently referred to as trees. The very name of the Druids allegedly means “the men of oak trees.” Initiates into certain Syrian mysteries were called “cedars.” In fact, the famous “cedars of Lebanon” described in the First Degree of Masonry were initiated sages which constituted the true supports of King Solomon’s Temple. If one listens closely to the lessons in the First Degree, he will hear that the three pillars in the lodge symbolically represent the Worshipful Master, Senior and Junior Wardens – originally regarded as three exceptionally wise and talented men who spiritually led the Entered Apprentices, Fellowcrafts and Masters, or overseers of the work.
As opposed to symbolizing specific people, Freemasonry uses the acacia to represent certain principles of spirituality that all people should aspire to attain. First, it is the emblem of the vernal equinox, or annual resurrection of the sun from the death of winter. Second, it signifies purity and innocence – traits also embodied in the legendary character Hiram Abif. Third, it typifies human immortality and the regeneration of life. The evergreen represents that immortal part of man that survives the destruction of the physical body and which will never, never, never die. Finally, it is the revered emblem of the ancient Egyptian Mysteries, to which Masonry owes much of its foundation.
The legend of Hiram Abif is liberally drawn from the Egyptian Mystery ritual of the murder and resurrection of Osiris. As such, the sprig of acacia also represents to Hiram’s resurrection to all Masons. In the Egyptian legend, the chest containing the body of Osiris, who was viciously murdered by Typhon, was washed ashore and lodged in the roots of a tamarisk, or acacia. The tamarisk grew into a mighty tree enclosing within itself the body of the murdered god. Some writers have theorized that this legend is the basis upon which the story was based about the sprig of acacia left at Hiram’s grave. Others also have asserted that the present-day Christmas tree is a continuation of the mystery of the evergreen.
Among Freemasons the essential lesson taught by the acacia pertains to the permanence of the human soul. The theme of permanence is bundled up into the various theologies and philosophies arising out of the notion of the resurrection. Today, certain religions teach that when a human dies eventually both his soul and material body continue in a heavenly environment. Other religions hold that only the soul continues to live. Most accept the contention that souls always were and ever will be living organisms. Regardless of the interpretation one selects regarding an afterlife, Freemasonry attaches an equally important significance to this life.
For centuries, men have asked the same question: what is the purpose of human life? Hundreds of thousands have joined Freemasonry over the years in hopes of learning an answer, but have learned that the Craft returns them to their churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship to seek more knowledge. As a candidate passes through the degrees of Masonry, he is informed that true knowledge is never to be found in one place. A man must search everywhere there is knowledge to understand his relationship with the Great Architect.
During that search, it is like that the inquiring mind will, sooner or later, stumble across the teachings of Origen, who lived, wrote and instructed between 185 A.D. and 254 A.D. At one period in Christian history, Origen was regarded as the most accurate of all interpreters about the human soul. Although later discarded by the Church as a heretic, he originally taught that souls repeat themselves in material incarnation – a teaching that now is termed reincarnation. Origen believed that each human being contained a spark of the Creator that had no beginning and no end. In his literary work entitled De Principils, Origen wrote: “Every soul…comes into this world strengthened by the victories or weakened by the defeats of the previous life. Its place in this world as a vessel appointed to honor or dishonor, is determined by its previous merits or demerits. Its work in this world determines its place in the world which is to follow.”
Without either accepting or rejecting reincarnation, Freemasonry makes a similar demand of its members about how each should live the life given them. Masons are called to live spiritually strong lives; not lives weakened by self-centeredness. When Pike wrote that every man had a work to do, he challenged every Mason to not only make the best of the circumstances in which he found himself, but to do so by serving others. Pray for others, feed the hungry, give to the poor, lavish love upon your neighbor and provide for the spiritual growth of your family – it is these that Masonry inculcates into the hearts and souls of the honored members of the Craft.
The acacia reminds us that while our lives are not limited by time, our material existence is time-controlled. No man knows how much time he has, but he should know that time is running out. If a good work is to be done during this lifetime, it must be done today, for tomorrow is in God’s hands. While we breathe, stand, walk and talk we may do something that improves the lot of our brethren. When time shall be no more, that work will be done by those left behind and we ourselves shall give no more. Though life shall always continue beyond man’s earthly existence, man’s loving, giving and sharing with others will cease when he shall return to the earth and his soul to God, who gave it.