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Ancient Syrian Freemasonry
The origin of the Cabirian Mysteries, which are often mentioned by ancient writers, is not well known. The Cabiri were probably priests or deified heroes, venerated by the ancients as the authors or interpreters of religion, and the founders of human society and civilization. The multiplicity of names applied to the same character ; the interchange of the names of the deities themselves with those of their priests; oracular law, which enjoined the preservation of ancient barbaric names, and thus led to a double nomenclature, sacred and profane ; together with the profound secrecy of the rites—have rendered the subject one of extremely difficult elucidation. Some say that the worship of the Cabiri was brought to Samothrace by the Pelasgi,* and others that they are the same as the Corybantes. In Egypt, their temple was never entered by any but the priests. In Phænicia and in Rome (where they had an altar in the Circus Maximus), and in other countries of Europe and Asia, traces of their worship are to be found. * Vide Herodotus, Lib. ll. 51.
+ Strabo, Lib. X. 472.
Thus it appears that the secret rites (Cabiria) prevailed very extensively, at an early period, in every quarter of the world. Indeed, the Mysteries of Isis, Ceres, Mithras, Trophonius, Bacchus, Rhea, Adonis, Osiris, and all the similar customs of Egypt, Greece, and Hindostan, seem to be merely varieties of the Samothracian rites, which were celebrated in the obscurity of night, and with the most profound secrecy.*
After a previous probation of abstinence, chastity, and silence, the candidate for initiation was purified by water and blood. He then offered a sacrifice of a bull or a ram, and, as in the Isianic rite, was made to drink of two fountains, called Lethe (oblivion), and Mnemosyne (memory), to enable him to wash away the memory of former guilt, and to remember the new instructions. He was then conducted to a dark tower or cavern, and made to accomplish the mystic journey through gloom and terror, during which he met with the most frightful adventures. The most appalling sounds assailed his ears—the rushing of waters, the roar of thunder, and dreadful yells—while occasional gleams of light flashing through the darkness, revealed to his view the most horrible phantoms. At length he found himself in a vast hall, in solitude, silence, and darkness. Presently a feeble light diffused a pale and spectral glare through the apartment, affording him
* Vide Faber's “ Cabiri.” Oxford, 1803 ; 2 vols. 8vo.
a confused and dim view of the objects surrounding him. The walls were clothed with black drapery, and everywhere appeared the symbols of decay and death, those emblems that point to the grave, and speak eloquently and impressively of the supreme hour of man's worldly life, and of the exceeding vanity and emptiness of all sublunary enjoyments and pursuits. Terrific phantoms, grim and ghostly, passed and repassed before him ; a bier rose up at his feet, on which was a coffin, and in the coffin a dead body! At this stage of the proceedings, a funeral dirge was chanted by an invisible choir ; and thus these sounds of terror and spectral visions were multiplied around him with rapid alternations, until the proper effect was supposed to have been produced upon his mind. Sometimes the neophyte was so overcome with fear that he fell senseless to the ground. The pilgrimage of gloom, however, here ended. A flood of dazzling light now poured in upon the scene, which was changed as by enchantment. The dark drapery, with its startling devices and funeral emblems, had disappeared, and garlands of flowers and foliage adorned the walls and crowned the altars. The dead body upon the bier returned to life, the funeral psalm gave place to a song of hope and victory, and the ceremonies which had commenced in gloom and darkness, ended in light, and joy, and confidence.
After these ceremonies had been performed, the
candidate was led to the presiding priest and instructed in the mystic science of the institutiontheology, morals, philosophy, and politics, being embraced in these instructions.
The candidate was baptized, and, as in the Christian church, received a new name. This new or baptismal name was engraved, together with a mystic token or sign, upon a small white stone, which, thus prepared, was presented to the initiated. He preserved it as a sacred talisman, and carried it with him wherever he went, as a means of recognition—it being efficacious to procure him relief from distress and security from danger. It was at the same time the emblem of victory over fear, and darkness, and error, and the means of security, en
joyment, and peace. St. John, of the Apocalypse, was undoubtedly an initiate of the Cabiria, and evidently alludes to the mystic stone just noticed when he says : "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it."* The apostle means to say : “As the initiate in the Cabirian rites, who, with a brave heart and an unfaltering step, passes boldly through the terrible ordeals appointed to try his patience, receives a white stone, with a new name, and a mysterious inscription upon it, which is a powerful resource against misfortune
Rev. ii. 17.
and gives him immunity from many dangers-S0 shall be given to the triumphant Christian that which, like the mystic stone, will secure him also from numberless dangers. It will raise him to a divine companionship, to membership in a celestial Fraternity, and to a full participation in the most mysterious enjoyments of the Secret Pavilion above."
These rites were spread through all the cities of Syria. Hiram, the king of Tyre, was undoubtedly a High Priest of these Mysteries.
This institution existed in Judea in the time of Christ. And it is a notable fact that while Christ denounced, in the severest terms, the two sectsPharisees and Sadducees—he said not a word in condemnation of the Essenes, who were the Freemasons, if we may so say, of that age—the faithful depositories of the ancient Cabirian rite. That our Saviour was familiar with this Order is certain ; because it cannot be supposed that a mind like that of Christ could pass over, without due consideration, a society like that of the Essenes, admired for the amiability and gentleness of its manners, and dignified with so many virtues. Besides, the moral sentiments, the social maxims, the ideas of liberty, fraternity, and equality, which distinguished the Essenian Order, differ in no respect from the Christian teachings regarding the same things.