Neither Jeremy L. Cross nor Robert B. Folger represent any official interpretation of Freemasonry or masonic symbols. But it is the writings of such nineteenth century authors that is used to bolster the claimor accusationthat Freemasonry is somehow linked to astrology. The history and ritual of Freemasonry do not support this claim.
Fiction of the weeping virgin
by Robert B. Folger, 33°
Jeremy L. Cross has been dead for many years. A more genial and kind-hearted man was not to be found, and his labors in and for the benefit of the masonic fraternity have endeared his memory to all who were acquainted with him during life. He has left a memorial of his masonic labors in the "Hieroglyphic Monitor," which bears his name, which passed through eighteen large editions before his death, and which has been trespassed upon more by masonic publishers and lecturers than any other masonic work which ever issued from the press, it being the basis of all works of the kind claimed by other persons.
It was my privilege to make the acquaintance of Brother Cross in 1853, at which time he was in the wholesale paper business, in Pearl near John Street, in the city of New York. I became more than commonly intimate with him, and that intimacy increased and continued up to the day of his death. The history of his life, together with all the incidents connected with the publication of his first "Hieroglyphic Monitor," were very frequently the subject of our conversation, and I found that the book was perfectly his "hobby-horse" ; he looked upon it as one of the greatest and most important achievements of his life.
The causes which led him first to devise the plan of such a work were as follows : He was passionately fond of masonry, studied under Thomas Smith Webb, Gleason, and others, became perfect under them in the lectures and work, and then started through the country as a lecturer in the year 1810. He was a man of excellent appearance in early life, strictly temperate from his youth up. His manners were prepossessing, open, frank, very fluent in language, and, withal, a very fine singer. As a matter of course, be became very popular, the business of lecturing flowed in upon him very fast, and he had as much to engage his mind in that line as he could well attend to. Wishing to take advantage of all the business that offered, he found the work slow of accomplishment by reason of delays caused by imperfect memories. He wanted something of an objective kind, which would have the effect of bringing to mind the various subjects of his lectures, and so fixing the details in the mind as, with the sets of objects presented to the sight, the lectures in detail would be complete.
There was not at that time any guide for lodges except the so-called "Masters Carpet," and the works of Preston and Webb. The "Masters Carpet" was deficient, being without many of the most important emblems, and those which it displayed were very much "mixed up." The work of Preston did not agree with the "adopted work." That of Webb agreed perfectly, but still was wanting in its most important part, viz., the hieroglyphics, by which the work is plainly and uniformly presented to the learner, rendering it easy of acquirement, and imprinting it upon the mind in such a manner that it will not readily be forgotten.
The second object was a copyright. He knew that in those days the cost of bringing together and putting together, and the bringing out of a work of the kind which he desired, would throw him into a large expenditure, and, in order to get back the cost and derive any solid benefit from it in the end, it must of necessity be in his own hands alone.
He considered the matter for many months, and finally attempted to draw various plans, taking Webbs "Monitor" for a guide. Part of the work be accomplished satisfactorily to himself.
This included the first and second degrees, and, although there was but little really original in the emblems which he produced, yet the classification and arrangement were his own. He went on with the third degree very well as far as the "Monitor" of Webb goes, when he came to a pause.
There was a deficiency in the third degree which had to be filled in order to effect his purposes and he became wearied in thinking over the subject. He finally consulted a brother, formerly a Mayor of New Haven, who at the time was one of his most intimate friends, and they, after working together for a week or more, could not hit upon any symbol which would be sufficiently simple and yet answer the purpose. Whereupon the copperplate-engraver, also a brother, who was doing his work, was called in. They went at the business with renewed courage, and the number of hieroglyphics which had by this time accumulated was immense. Some were too large, some too small, some too complicated, requiring too much explanation, and many not at all adapted to the subject. Finally, said the copperplateprinter :
"Brother Cross, when great men die, they generally have a monument."
"Thats right," said Cross "I never thought of that," and away he went.
He was missing from the company, and was found loitering around the burying-ground, in New Haven in a maze. He had surveyed all that was there, but did not seem satisfied. At last be got an idea, whereupon the council came together again, and he then told them that he had got the foundation of what he wantedthat while sojourning in New York City he bad seen the monument erected over Commodore Lawrence,* in the southwest corner of Trinity churchyard; that it was a glorious monument to the memory of a great man who fell in battle. It was a large marble pillar, broken off. The part broken off was taken away, but they had left the capital lying at the base. He would have that pillar for the foundation of his new emblem, but would bring the other part of the pillar in, leaving it to rest against the base. Then one could know what it all meant. The other part of the pillar should be there. This was assented to, but more was wanted. They needed some inscription describing the merits of the dead. They found no place on the column, and after a lengthy discussion they hit upon an open book placed upon the broken pillar. But there should, in the order of things, be some reader of the book; so they selected the emblem of innocence in a beautiful virgin, who should weep over the memory of the deceased while she read of his heroic deeds.
"But, sir," said I, "how will you get along with the Jewish people? You know that very many Jews are masons. They are very tenacious of the 'law' which forbids the making of any image of any kind, and that even the touch of a dead body by a Jew renders him unclean, and, as a consequence, unfit to come into the synagogue until after many days' purification. They would never allow any dead body to be brought into the temple, nor will they even to this day allow any sculptured figures or images to be put up as monuments in their cemeteries."
"Oh, I never thought of that," said Brother Cross. "However, it makes no difference. I did not intend to injure the feelings or prejudices of any one by my monument. I only invented it to serve as a help to memorize my lectures and work."
"Admirable, indeed," said I, "but how does it happen that, in the year 1825, when I was raised to the third degree, in Firemans Lodge, old City Hotel, there was nothing mentioned about any monument of the kind! How did it get into the history at all?"
"Oh," said Brother Cross, "I put it there. You see the work was imperfect without the monument. It was right that there should be a monument for great men when dead. The thought of burying the body of a great man without leaving some memorial to mark the place where he is laid is repulsive. I think I have supplied the deficiency, and done it admirably."
"But, still, this was done in 1819, and in 1825 it had not reached New York."
"Oh, that is right. The Grand Lodge of the State of New York would not receive my work, and did not until 1826. They worked 'old style.'
All the Eastern, Southern, and Western States had received and authorized it, but New York and Pennsylvania held out. But in 1826 Brother Henry C. Atwood, one of my ablest scholars, and as good a workman as I ever saw, established Mystic Lodge in New York City, and worked after my system. Immediately the work spread throughout the State.
"The craft are indebted to me for harmonizing and beautifying the work and lectures. I have labored solely for their benefit, and they are quite welcome to all that I have done, But many have treated me badly, by copying and publishing my hieroglyphics, claiming them as their own. My copyright was based upon them, and upon the order of their arrangement. The publication cost me a large amount of money, and involved me in debt ; and soon after its appearance a lecturer in Vermont made a similar publication, infringing upon my copyright. I sought redress from the law, and was sustained. My copyright was confirmed and secured. Since that I have never pushed the matter, although frequently on the point of doing so, as all those difficulties generally ended in some compromise, which amounted to very little. Many of the hieroglyphics which I have used are described by the authors who have gone before me, yet there are many which are not described, or even made mention of. These I claim as my own property, and, if I have refused to proceed in law against those brethren who have wronged me, it was not because I doubted the justice of my claim or my ability to recover. This had been already settled in law. I chose to remember my obligations to the Order, although others had forgotten them. I preferred to dwell in unity and peace with the brethren rather than be the author of contention and strife, and thus bring a reproach upon an institution which I venerate and love."
It would be proper to state that the monument erected to the memory of Commodore Lawrence was put up in the southwest corner of Trinity churchyard, in the year 1813, after the fight between the frigates Chesapeake and Shannon, in which battle Lawrence fell. It was a beautiful marble pillar, broken off, and a part of the capital laid at its base. The monument remained
there until 1844-'45, at which time Trinity Church bad been taken down and rebuilt as it now stands. When finished, all the débris was cleaned away, the burial-grounds trimmed and fancifully decorated, and the corporation of the church took away the old and dilapidated monument of Lawrence from that spot and erected a new one of a different form, placing it in the front of the yard on Broadway, at the lower entrance of the church, where it now stands. Brother Cross and myself visited the new monument together, and be expressed great disappointment at the change, saying, "It was not half as good as the one they had taken away."
Brother Cross was a lecturer in masonry for more than forty years, and his name will be cherished by masons for many generations to come. ("Masonic Newspaper," New York, May 10, 1879.)
The above is a view of the Lawrence monument, formerly in Trinity churchyard, referred to in the foregoing article from the "Masonic Newspaper," and from which it is said Cross took his emblematic monument of Hiram Abif. (See Lossing," Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812.") It will be observed that the weeping virgin, the open book, and the figure of Time, are all wanting. As these form the essential features of the masonic monument, Cross must have obtained the most significant elements of his emblem from some other source, which has not been disclosed.
Had Cross been more familiar with the symbolism of those ancient Mysteries from which Freemasonry is derived, he might have devised such an emblem as he desired, which, while it expressed the same general idea, would not have thus violated the traditions of our Order, and also, at the same time, have been in entire harmony with the astronomical basis of the legend of the third degree.
Among the many names under which the constellation Virgo was adored was that of Rhea. This goddess was figured (according to Bryant) as a beautiful female adorned with a chaplet, in which were seen rays composed of ears of corn (i.e., wheat), her right hand reclining on a pillar, and in her left spikes of corn. By corn the ancients intended wheat. Maize, which in America is almost exclusively called corn, was not known until the discovery of this continent. The spikes of "wheat" in the chaplet and left band of the goddess Rhea are, like those held in the left hand of Virgo, emblematic of the season when the sun enters that sign. This figure of the goddess Rhea, it will be seen 'resembles somewhat the virgin of Cross, standing by the broken column, holding in her hand a sprig of acacia instead of the spikes of wheat. Rhea was the daughter of Sky and Earth (Coelus and Terra). She was also the mother of Jupiter and wife of Saturn, also known as Kronos, or Time. This would quite naturally permit the association of the figure of Saturn and his scytheor Time with that of the virgin. In the Dionysiac Mysteries, Dionysus (who is the same as Osiris, the personified sun-god) is represented as being slain. Rhea (who is also identical with Isis and Virgo) goes in search of his body, which she at last finds, and causes it to be buried with due honor. Now if, as Dr. Mackey admits, this legend was introduced into the fraternity established by Hiram at the building of King Solomons temple, and forms the basis of the third degree of Freemasonry, this figure of the goddess Rhea would be a very appropriate emblem of that degree.
Thus the present emblem of the beautiful virgin requires but slight modifications to bring it into entire harmony with all the ancient traditions and mythology. The pretended history illustrating the emblem, which Cross admits he invented, should be expunged from the ritual, and the figure of the beautiful virgin represented somewhat after the manner here depicted.
The open book and funeral urn are omitted for the reasons before given. In the left hand thus placed at liberty is the evergreen, or sprig of acacia, because in her left hand Virgo holds the spear of ripe wheat, for which masons have substituted the former as an emblem of immortalityalthough to those who are familiar with the beautiful utterances of St. Paul, the spike of wheat is as significant an emblem of eternal life as the evergreen. Says the apostle : "But some will say, How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come? Fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die, and that which thou sowest is not that body which shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or some other." The right hand is represented as resting on the broken column, because the ancients figured Virgo, under the name of Rhea, with her right band resting on a stone pillar.
The alterations thus made in the emblem are but slight, and nothing is omitted but the "funeral urn" and the "open book." The latter is represented by Cross in a shape entirely unknown to the ancients, whose only books were in the form of rolls of manuscript. The handsome octavo volume, which he has placed on the broken column, looks as if just issued from the press, and is a gross anachronism. Those who are familiar with the lectures belonging to the third degree will find an additional and masonic reason for placing the evergreen in the left hand, "for, as the left is considered the weakest part of the body," it is thus more significant of its mortality: the acacia, therefore, placed in the left hand, more clearly teaches us that, when the body, by reason of its weakness, crumbles into dust, the soul of man, rising from the "rubbish" and ruins of its earthly tabernacle, shall dwell in perpetual youth in that "temple not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." Behind the figure of the virgin stands the form of Saturn, or Time, not counting the ringlets of her hair, but pointing upward toward the summit of the zodiacal arch. This beautiful daughter of the skies, Virgo, according to other mythological legends, is also the husband of the sun, who, when he entered the constellation Virgo, was said to espouse her.
The whole emblem may therefore be astronomically explained as follows : The virgin weeping over the broken column denotes her grief at the death of the sun, slain by the wintry signs. Saturn standing behind her and pointing to the summit of the zodiacal arch denotes that Time will heal her sorrows, and, when the year has filled its circuit, her lord the sun will arise from the grave of winter, and, triumphing over all the powers of darkness, come again to her embraces.
The emblem of the beautiful virgin, thus represented and explained, is not only an eloquent expression of affection weeping over the loss of a beloved friend, but also a mystic symbol of some of the leading facts of astronomy, and a significant emblem of the immortality of the soul.
* Captain Lawrence: see "American Cyclopaedia."
Stellar Theology and Masonic Astronomy or the origin and meaning of ancient and modern mysteries explained. by Robert Hewitt Brown, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1, 3, and 5 Bond Street. 1892. 112pp. pp. 65-70.