Vol. XXXIV No. 4 — April 1956

Geography of the Ritual

The initial charge given a candidate in the preparation room, states that Freemasonry welcomes to her doors and admits to her privileges worthy men of all creeds and of every race.

In the ritualistic account of the principal tenets of the order, reference is made to the fact that we are all inhabitants of the same planet and are of every country, sect and opinion.

“Every race” — “every country” — “inhabitants of the same planet” would seem to indicate that all geography is the geography of the Craft.

But in a narrower sense the geography of the ritual is largely if not wholly confined to the geography of the Old Testament, with occasional excursions to Egypt, Greece and Rome.


Egypt was the country of the captivity. A “miraculous east wind” separated the waters of the Red Sea and let the captives through; then the waters came together again and destroyed the pursuers. It was that “east wind” which determined the position of the Tabernacle, which, in turn, was the inspiration if not the model for Solomons Temple — at least according to ritual!

According to Exodus, the Lord commanded Moses to camp “between Migdol and the sea.” Apparently this was the starting point for the Israelites fleeing from Egypt for whom the waters were divided by a strong east wind.

What was the “sea”? The word in the Bible means a lake, a river, as well as greater bodies of water. Modern Biblical scholarship believes that the escape was perhaps made at the southeastern end of the Bitter Lakes, which might indeed, be fordable at low water and with an east wind. It is not credible that any wind, no matter how strong, could actually divide the Red Sea at or near Suez moreover, an east wind would have piled up, rather than divided, the waters of the Red Sea as we know it. The exact location of the place where the Israelites approached whatever body of water it was through which they passed, is unknown to Biblical scholars.

Both to Freemasonry and to students of the Bible, what is important in this story is not the exact spot, or the exact body of water, but the east wind, the escape and the confusion and the destruction of the pursuers, the Egyptians.


Not quite half way to Palestine from Rome is Athens, the great Greek city, in which the Apostle Paul taught, and that was the seat of so much art, philosophy and culture that has influenced practically everything in the world, including Freemasonry. In the Fellowcraft degree, we hear “to the Greeks, therefore, and not to the Romans are we indebted for that which is great, judicious and distinct in architecture.”

Greek architecture began as a separate and distinct style perhaps 1000 B.C., but its great flowering was about 500 B.C. No period in history and no people have ever done more in the building of beauty in buildings and temples, although the Gothic, to come fifteen hundred and more years later, has equaled the best of Greece in aspiration and inspiration.

On both sides of the Tiber, fifteen miles from the Tyrrhenian Sea, near the Apennine Mountains, Athens is one of the richest cities in the world in history, art, culture, law, and as a religious and intellectual center. The city gave much to architecture, but it was a development of tire architecture of others, rather than an original style. From Greece came post and lintel and columns; then from the Etruscans came vault and arch and dome. Rome also knew the use of concrete and Roman roads, aqueducts and circuses were justly famous in the period rough from 300 B.C. to A.D. 100. If to Greece must be given the palm for the greatest architectural beauty, to Rome must go the accolade for greatest size, usefulness and an ancient worldwide spread of building ideas.


Rome, the great city of Italy, which was once the seat of the Roman Empire, is somewhat inland from the middle west coast of Italy. Masonically, we have references to it in the five orders of architecture and in the statement made that the lambskin apron is "more ancient than the Golden Fleece or Roman Eagle” — the latter, the symbol of Romes power and majesty.

Holy Land

It is in the Holy Land, however, that the geography of the ritual largely lies; Mt. Hermon; Mt. Zion; Jerusalem; the Red Sea; the seaport of Joppa; Mt. Moriah; the River Jordan; Succoth and Zeredetha; Lebanon and its forests, all come into the limelight when looking at a map that shows the realms of the Twelve Tribes and the ancestry of Solomon and the builders of the Temple in general and the two Hirams.


The Psalmist sang (133rd Psalm) of the Dew of Hermon. Hermon is the high peak that is the south part of the anti-Lebanon range. It was always a sacred locality and many shrines were anciently upon its slopes. But its Masonic significance is in the use made of it in the Entered Apprentice Degree, in which the virtues of brotherly love — “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” — are stressed. Here this same feeling of unity is likened to the Dew of Hermon, which is important because the dew on that high mountain (9363 feet) is unusual, so heavy that at times there is little to choose between it and rain. The result is a heavy growth of the lower slopes, and in Biblical times, cypress and fir came from its forests for the boat-builders of Phoenicia.

Jacob’s Ladder

Genesis 28:10 reads: “And Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran. (11) And he lighted upon a certain place and tarried there all night.”

It was here that he had the vision of the ladder and the angels ascending and descending upon it.

Haran was a city just beyond the boundaries of that part of the ancient Semetic world that was controlled by the Hittites; Haran was approximately 150 miles inland from the Mediterranean. It was a junction point on the great trade route from Nineveh to Carchemish and commercially important.

Supposing that Jacob traveled on foot and that he left in the morning as he “went toward” Haran, he might have traveled some ten or even fifteen miles by evening. Beersheba was a city of Simeon and the neighboring district was termed the wilderness of Beersheba. Beersheba was a city very near the southern boundary of Judea. Jacob would have had a long journey had he been going to Haran instead of “toward Haran.” But Genesis 28:19 states: “he called the name of that place Bethel.”

Bethel is twelve miles north of Jerusalem, about sixty-five miles from Beersheba, so that (1) either he did not walk, or (2) he did not “light on a certain place” the first night away from Beersheba.

Jacob is reported as having said “how dreadful is this place” which would indicate that the country was wild and rugged and stony.


The site of Solomon’s Temple. The city is very ancient; some archaeological finds seems to place its beginning at least 2500 B.c. It stands on a rocky plateau that projects southward from the Judean hills; its average height is about 2500 feet above sea level and 3800 feet above the level of the Dead Sea.

The city is storied, holy to millions, a focus of ancient history. Perhaps no shorter description of its importance both to historians and Freemasons has ever been written than these lines by G. A. Smith (Professor of Old Testament subjects in the Free Church College at Glasgow):

Central but aloof, defensible, but not commanding, left alone by the main currents of the world’s history, Jerusalem had been but a small highland township, her character compounded of the rock, the olive and desert. Sion, “the Rockfort,” Olivet and Gethsemane, “the Oilpress,” the Tower of the Flock and the Wilderness of the Shepherds would still have been names typical of her life, and the things they illustrate have remained the material substance of her history to the present day.

But she became the bride of kings and the mother of prophets.


This ancient city on the sea coast of Palestine is the port for Jerusalem. It also is called Jaffa, Yafha, and, after the conquest by Alexander, was for a time called Joppe. As early as the thirteenth century, B.C., it is known to have sheltered excellent workmen in wood, metal and leather. The Old Testament is the authority for the Masonic statement that trees from Lebanon were imported by floating down the coast (1 Kings 9:26).


The Jordan is a river of Palestine flowing from north to south in an unusual depression in the earth’s crust; it was the Aulon of the Greeks and the Ghor of the Arabs. For two thirds of its length, the river is below sea level and is not navigable.

Throughout history, it has roughly divided the settled from the nomadic populations. Crossing the river was an event in Biblical times. Its valley was then (and is actually now) a “wilderness.”

It has numerous rapids and small falls. The mean fall of the river is about nine feet to the mile; the river is so crooked that it traverses two hundred miles to cover a distance of sixty-five. The clay of its valley was of such character that Solomon there established brass foundries. Generally speaking, it is a muddy, rather foul stream, and was not highly regarded by the Israelites.


A range of mountains in Syria, extending from beyond Sidon to Tyre, and forming the northern boundary of Palestine, celebrated for the cedars that it produces, many of which are from fifty to eighty feet in height, and cover with their branches a space of ground the diameter of which is still greater. Hiram, King of Tyre, in whose dominions Mount Lebanon was situated, furnished these trees for the building of the Temple of Solomon. John Kitto’s Biblical Cyclopedia states:

The forests of the Lebanon mountains, only, could supply the timber for the Temple. Such of these forests as lay nearest the sea were in possession of the Phoenicians, among whom timber was in such constant demand that they had acquired great and acknowledged skill in the felling and transportation thereof; and hence it was of such importance that Hiram consented to employ large bodies of men in Lebanon to hew timber, as well as others to perform the services of bringing it down to the seaside, whence it was to be taken along the coast in floats to the port of Joppa, from which place it could be easily taken across the country to Jerusalem.

Mt. Moriah

An eminence that is now in the southeastern part of Jerusalem; it was here that Solomon erected his temple. It is, Masonically, “near the place” where Abraham was to offer up his son Isaac. Genesis 22:2 says:

get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

Whether the Temple was actually “at” the place or “near” the place at which Isaac was to be sacrificed seems less important than that Solomon’s Temple, dedicated to the best that the religion of the Jews had to offer, was connected with so great a tradition.


Not mentioned in the ritual, from this island comes the “Parian Marble” which Masonry gives to Solomon’s Temple. “Parian Marble” is a stone that was much used by sculptors and architects of Greece; the Venus de Medici is a notable work in this material. It was quarried on the island of Paros, particularly at Mt. Marpessa. But there is no mention of it in the Bible and no mention of marble in the Old Testament in relation to the Temple of Solomon.

Paros is an island in the Aegean Sea some seventy- five miles east of Athens in Greece. The island is small — about ten by thirteen miles, but is more or less unique in being composed almost entirely of this especially fine variety of stone.

Whatever "father of the ritual” placed it as the material of the columns and pilasters of Solomons Temple evidently knew his marbles, if not his Old Testament.

Quarries of Zeredetha

It is difficult to reconcile the ritual regarding the stones for Solomons Temple, which were "all hewn, squared and numbered in the quarries of Zeredethah,” with anything in the Old Testament. The word quarries occurs in Judges 3:19 and 3:26 in which quotations are mentioned “the quarries that were by Gilgal.”

Gilgal is the name of several localities in Palestine. The word is generally used to indicate a circle of stones of religious significance; a cromlech; perhaps something similar to Stonehenge.

The Gilgal of 2 Kings 2:1 and 4:38 is probably about fourteen miles north of Jerusalem, and so might not be too distant if quarries were there located.

The Old Testament says little of Zeredetha; the word occurs only once, which is the reference to the clay ground between Succoth and Zeredetha (2 Chronicles 4:17). Biblical dictionaries and encyclopedias, even the Britannica, are silent on the subject. So it appears that some ritual maker at some time has either confused the “clay ground” with the “stone quarries” or has had information that there were stone quarries near or at Zeredetha, which more modern and learned scholars do not have.

Succoth and Zeredetha

Between these places, somewhere on or near the river Jordan, were the brass furnaces of Solomon. It was in the “clay ground” here that Hiram is supposed to have cast the Pillars in the Porch of the Temple. Biblical authorities are not at all sure as to the exact position of either, and there is some confusion in several accounts in the Old Testament.


Zion — Mountains of Zion — of the Psalmist was the southwestern of three hills that make the high table land on which the City of Jerusalem is built. Because David had there his residence it is sometimes referred to as the City of David. Sometimes Zion and Jerusalem are synonymous. The mountain is 2440 feet in height.

If this short survey of the terrain of the ritual makes it plainer to any reader, he is reminded that many Bibles and most encyclopedias have maps of the Holy Land that these few pages attempt to make more vivid.

Question Box

This column will attempt to answer questions about Freemasonry.

What is the Regius Poem?

Sometimes called the Halliwell Manuscript, it is, loosely speaking, the oldest of the “Manuscript Constitutions” of Freemasonry. Dated approximately A.D. 1390, it is in old Chaucerian English, difficult to read without a translation. It is preserved in the British Museum.

It is not, accurately speaking, a “Constitution,” although it has within it much that is found in manuscripts. It is more a document about Masonry than for Masons. It is discursive, rambling, wordy and parts of it are copies of contemporary documents, notably "Urbanitatis” and “Instructions to a Parish Priest.” Within the Regius, thirty-eight lines are devoted to “The Four Crowned Martyrs,” who are not referred to in any of the manuscript Constitutions.

The book is approximately four by five and one-half inches, the pages fine vellum, the letters in red and what was probably once black but is now a rather drab greenish brown color.

Its most curious feature is that it is written in verse, which is why it is often called the Regius Poem, although it is much more doggerel than poetry.

It is important to Masonic students for many reasons; to the average Mason its most salient feature may be that it ends with what are, so far as is known, the oldest words in the Masonic ritual.

The Masonic Service Association of North America