General Ahiman Rezon, by Daniel Sickels, , at sacred-texts.com
ALL nations of the earth, from time immemorial, however much they have differed in most things, have ever agreed in this, viz: that it is a sacred duty to dispose of the bodies of the departed in a reverential manner. The most prevalent custom has been to bury them in the earth or place them in tombs. Among the Greeks, the duty of burying the dead was considered so important, that they enacted a law, requiring that whoever should meet a corpse in his path, should cover it with earth, turning the eyes to the evening-star. In some of the Oriental nations, the practice of burning the dead, and preserving their ashes in funereal urns, prevailed; but this custom was not tolerated in Judea. The Jews celebrated their funerals with great ceremony. Large crowds generally followed the body to its last resting-place, and—what seems strange to us—hired mourners, with lamentations and tears, proclaimed the grief of the surviving friends.
The prejudices of the people would not allow interments to be made in cities, and, consequently, every town had its cemetery without its walls. This fact would seem to be contradicted by a statement made in this section of the third degree, and Masonic writers have been much perplexed to find a means of reconciling the contradiction. But the subject is really free of all difficulty. The scene referred to is not historically true. Neither the supreme act of this degree—as we have heretofore remarked—nor the final one here described, are to be considered as commemorative of historical facts. The whole together forms a sublime myth, whose significance we have explained in our annotations elsewhere.
The Hebrews had cheerful views of death, and awaited its approach with calmness. With confidence and filial trust they closed their eyes on life, its splendors and enjoyments, and departed joyfully to join the great assembly of the blessed. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil!" was the exulting exclamation of one of them. When loved ones were stricken down, and consigned to the grave, they did not speak of them as dead, but said "they sleep with their fathers!" Hence, their burial-places were generally selected for their agreeable scenery, and were shaded with the Cypress and Cedar, and adorned with the Tamarisk and "golden-haired" Acacia.
The Jews undoubtedly erected monuments, bearing appropriate emblems and inscriptions, to commemorate the virtues of distinguished men; but the mausoleums which they best loved, were those that Nature supplies. Obelisks of granite and marble will crumble to dust as the ages revolve, but Nature's monuments—the trees and the flowers, symbols of Love, Hope, and Immortality—are perpetually renewed.
Some of the ancient Oriental cemeteries yet exist. A late traveler found one near Babylon, and growing near one of its venerable graves was a Tamarisk, which seemed to belong to the epoch when the Chaldean State was at the summit of its glory. "It appears," he says, "to be of the highest antiquity, and has been a superb tree—perhaps a scion of the monarch of the hanging gardens. Its present height is only twenty-three feet; its trunk has been of great circumference; though now rugged and rifted, it still stands proudly up; and, although nearly worn away, has still sufficient strength to bear the burden of its limbs in the stern grandeur of its decaying greatness. The fluttering and rustling sound produced by the wind sweeping through its delicate branches, has an indescribably melancholy
effect, and seems as if entreating the traveler to remain, and unite in mourning over those who slumber below. I scarcely dared ask why, while standing beneath this precious relic of the past and prophet of the future, I had nearly lost the power of forcing myself from the spot.
The emblems of the second class, which are peculiar to this degree—the Spade, Coffin, Sprig of Acacia, etc.—are well known to all thoroughly-qualified Masons. They are all expressive and eloquently instructive; but we have always regarded the acacia as the most beautiful and significant; for it speaks of immortality. So the trees, the shrubs, and flowers with which the old Hebrews were wont to surround the tombs and graves of their "loved and lost," were carefully selected with reference to their symbolic meaning. They were types of sympathy, affection, hope, and of the love which is eternal.
This should also be the practice of modern Freemason. The adorning of our graves with those symbols of sympathy and everlasting affection which Nature so richly furnishes, takes away the gloom and terror of the "narrow house." Let the rose, the amaranth, and the myrtle bloom around the places where our loved departed rest from the toils and conflicts of life. Let the acacia, cypress, and cedar be planted there, and embellish the soil which is consecrated to the dead. Thus, on every returning Spring, each swelling bud and opening flower will seem to declare that the night of death is passing;
Thus every wind that softly breathes through the green foliage, and fans the verdant coverings of the dead, will seem to be an echo of the voice of GOD, or the Archangel's trump, commanding the dead to rise. Then will holy and trustful thoughts and bright hopes hover over their tombs, as crowns of stars. The grave will be transfigured, and shine with a light immortal
By following the example of our brethren of the old days, we render a homage, justly due, to the spirits of the honored dead. Each grave thus becomes an altar, consecrated by sighs, and tears, and holy affections; and the flowers that bloom thereon, are the
offerings which unforgetting love presents to the cherished being who slumbers beneath.
WHEN the necessities of a Brother call for my aid and support, I will be ever ready to render him such assistance, to save him from sinking, as may not be detrimental to myself ### connections, if I find him worthy thereof.
Indolence shall not cause my footsteps to halt, nor shall wrath turn them aside; but, forgetting every selfish consideration, I will be ever swift of foot to save, help, and execute benevolence to a fellow-creature in distress, particularly to a brother Mason.
When I offer up my devotions to Almighty God, I will remember a Brother's welfare as my own; for, most assuredly, will the petitions of a fervent heart be acceptable at the Throne of Grace; and our prayers are certainly required for each other.
A Brother's secrets, delivered to me as such, I will keep as I would my own, because, by betraying that trust, I might be doing him the greatest injury he could possibly sustain.
A Brother's character I will support in his absence as I would in his presence; I will not wrongfully revile him myself, nor will I suffer it to be done by others, if in my power to prevent it.
Thus are we linked together in one indissoluble chain of sincere affection, brotherly love, relief, and truth.
It has been the practice in all ages to erect monuments to the memory of departed worth; and the section closes with a tribute to the memory of that distinguished artist who preferred to lose his life rather than betray his trust.
202:* Travels in the Holy Land and Chaldea, by Capt. ROBT. MIQUARI. 1829.