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What is the significance of the following design's found on memorials? I. H. S.? Oak leaves? Ivy? Lily? Passion Flower?
When this question was assigned to me at our Omaha meeting, with the request that all the designs found on memorials be included in a paper on Symbols at our next meeting, I thought that it would be a comparatively easy subject to handle.
But I have found as I studied the subject that there are emblems of secret societies used on memorials that express the secrets of lodges and orders to which I had no access, not being a member of any such societies.
However, these emblems of lodges and secret orders are made up from various ancient symbols.
Clement of Alexandria, the father of modern Egyptian Science says that "touching mysterious things the symbols of the Egyptian are like unto the Hebrew".
In a little book published in 1866, being a translation of a French work by Frederick Portal entitled "A Comparison of Egyptian Symbols with those of the Hebrews"; we find therein that Mr. Portal has taken the ground that the ancient Hebrew names of the ancient forms expressed the symbolic meaning of these forms. I fully believe that forms are purposes, not things and that when we have learned their purpose, we will cease to think of them as just merely things of three dimensions, for we will see only the purpose.
The origin of the Science of Symbols is lost in the distance of time and seems to be connected with the cradle of humanity. The oldest religions were governed by it; the Arts of design, architecture, statuary and painting were born under its influence and primitive writing was one of its applications. Hence the early writings and records left by the earliest inhabitants of our earth were picture writings.
These are combinations of various figures, that in time past, even before language was written, were used on ancient Egyptian and other monuments and known as hieroglyphic writings.
The Rosetta Stone shows the use of those characters, mingled with alphabetic writing.
In his book, Frederic Portal has traced many Egyptian hieroglyphs back to early Hebrew words, and has shown that names of forms used originally had a close similarity to Hebrew words, meaning the same as that given by the Egyptian to the form.
In our English language we have many synonymous words all expressing a similar idea. May we not search out a word that will bear a phonetic sound and a meaning expressing the ancient symbolic meaning given to ancient forms and thus show why certain forms symbolize certain ideas?
Most of the symbols stand for ideas or principles that were always true are now and ever will be true.
The Egyptian expressed the sublime in form and in scale, which leads us at once, beyond a nation or a people, to see the Omnipotent, All Power, Presence and understanding they had of God and that they symbolized in all their architectural forms. So deep and so broad is the subject of symbols that it would require a volume of the size of the Standard Dictionary to give you an exhaustive description of all forms and names and what they symbolize.
Portal says, "We must choose between two interpretations of words, one the trivial, the other the sublime; the first presenting a pun; the second affording a key to Bible symbols.
The Egyptian symbolized the thought and ways of mankind by picturing them as mule-headed, fox-headed, hawk-headed, snake-headed, thus expressing the natural propensities of the individual portrayed.
“Changes in pronunciation of names and words, at first, scarcely perceptible, degenerated from tongue to tongue and finally destroyed every trace of symbolism and rhetoric took the place of symbols."
Paul said in II Corinthians, 4-18, "While we look not at the things which are seen but at the things which are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal". I am convinced that the things we see are just symbols of the things not seen.
"Not only all the names of men in Hebrew, but those of quadrupeds, birds, fish, insects, trees, flowers and stones are significant," says Portal. So we find the very purposes of the Creator hidden in the early names and symbolized in the forms of things. After searching out the symbolic meaning of the things we see, one comes to know that the form seen is not nearly so important as the purpose for which it was made. Forms may disappear, be destroyed, but their purpose endureth forever.
If we try to comprehend Infinity or Eternity or Space, we find ourselves trying to comprehend each as having a beginning and an ending, and then we try to reason out what is beyond the end we have fixed.
As the shadow is the evidence of a form, so a form is the evidence of an idea and an idea is evidence of the Mind that created it. So a symbol is the evidence of an idea and expresses the purpose of that idea.
The following symbols with their meanings were selected from some fifteen hundred or more that were used either on ancient or modern monuments.
The circle or sphere is perhaps the oldest of all symbolic forms. The first forms no doubt, were the suns and planetary systems.
Hare: Contemplation of Divinity
Horse (without rider):
Death Horse (with right root lifted):
Rider killed in battle.
Horse (with left foot lifted):
Lamb: Modesty. Innocence
Sphinx: To guard and conceal hidden things
Dove: Spiritual Peace
Eagle: Perfect vision and eternal vigilance
Hawk: Soul aspiring to Heaven
Ostrich Feather: Justice and truth
Flower Festoon: Memory
Forget-me-not: True love
Gingko: Eternal Life
Ivy: Memory of Friendship
Lily: The resurrection
Lotus: Celestial light
Oak: Majesty. Endurance
Olive: Victory. Peace
Palm Tree: Truth, Justice
Poppy: Death as Sleep
Rose: Human love
Wheat: Staff of life
Ears of Wheat: Prosperity, Constancy
Stock of Wheat: Body of Christ
Bundle of Wheat: Harvest
Wi low: Desperation, Grief
Passion flower: Crucifixion
The pictures thrown on the screen will carry out these designs. Now, there is no question in my mind but that many of you will disagree on these points, but if you will go back to the original Hebrew and follow out most of these, as I have followed them out, back to the Hebrews, they express just what I have said in their meaning.
From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 39th Annual Convention
August 24, 25, 26 and 27, 1925