Every master mason knows the story of the third degree. Hiram Abiff, the chief architect at the building of King Solomon’s temple is murdered shortly before its completion. Initially it is fifteen of the fellowcraft who initiate this conspiracy. We don’t know the reason, but twelve of them recant. The story then centres on the capture and confession of the perpetrators and subsequent discovery of the body.
The elements in this narrative are conspiracy, intrigue, murder, retribution and salvation. Could there be a more pointed metaphor for the triumph of good over evil than that contained in this story? The metaphor may indeed extend to the triumph of life over death.
One of the questions that arise is why did the originators of the saga pick on fifteen as a number of conspirators, and why did twelve confess and three complete the grisly task. Why choose these numbers? Why not ten, eight and two?
Numbers were important to the ancient Greeks. Pythagoras, Aristotle and Plato all indulged in a theory of symbolic numbers. In modern Freemasonry the number three fits neatly into many of the rituals. A craft lodge has three degrees. An initiate has a cable tow placed three times round his neck and is paraded three times round the lodge. There are three principal officers in a lodge. Freemasonry is founded on three great principles, brotherly love, relief and truth. What of the number twelve? To quote Mackey, “there were twelve signs of the zodiac, twelve months in the year, twelve Tribes of Israel, twelve stones in the pectoral, and twelve oxen supporting the molten sea in the Temple. There were twelve apostles in the new law, and the New Jerusalem has twelve gates (and) twelve foundations…” This not to say that freemasonry is descended from such ancient traditions but rather the creators of the rituals must have been steeped in such esoteric thought.
Why did some of the protagonists confess? Is not the third founding principle, truth? Why is it important to search for Hiram? Because we seek the truth. We want to be sure of his fate. When we learn that fate, our thoughts turn to justice and how we can obtain it. We order horrible deaths inflicted on the perpetrators of the crime. An eye for an eye.
Each new master mason learns this saga. He represents Hiram Abiff. Eventually he is raised from the dead level to the perpendicular. There is clear allusion to geometry in this raising just as there is a clear message to all who participate. Good will triumph over evil, provided we follow a path which will lead us there.