“Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he crouched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?”
In the tribal benediction pronounced upon Judah and the tribe of which he was the founder, the term lion’s whelp symbolized strength. Therefore, the emblem on the banner of the Tribe of Judah was a lion. The same symbolism is found in Masonic ritual and has enjoyed several philosophical and theological interpretations.
To our Christian brethren, the phrase “Lion of the Tribe of Judah” refers to the Messiah, who is said to have brought light and immortality into the world. To our Jewish brethren, Judah was the fourth son of the patriarch Jacob and represents the fourth point discussed in ancient Freemasonry. Both Kings David and Solomon are also said to have descended from the Tribe of Judah. However, there is a more ancient usage of the lion’s paw that may have application to the Masonic mysteries.
Candidates who successfully passed the Mithraic initiations were called Lions and were marked upon their foreheads with the Egyptian cross, or ankh. Throughout the entire Mithraic ritual references were made of Mithra as the Sun God, who came to earth to offer himself as a sacrifice for man and by his death giving men life eternal. After initiation, the candidate was hailed as one who had risen from the grave and was permitted to learn the secret Persian mysteries that originated with Zarathustra.
Although popularized by the Romans and the belief that at least one Roman Emperor was initiated into the order, the Rites of Mithra was of Persian origin and later migrated into Southern Europe. “Mithra” is the Zend-Avesta title for the sun and he/she dwelled within that orb. Mithra was both male and female and, as a deity, represented the “feminine principle.” That phrase has been more recently popularized in the work of fiction by Dan Brown entitled The Da Vinci Code. However, as opposed to representing the Holy Grail, as did Mary Magdalene in Brown’s work, the female side of Mithra represented Nature while the male side represented the sun that bathed Nature so that flora and fauna would grow. With this understanding it is easier to also understand the connection between Freemasonry and the Rites of Mithra.
In a Masonic symbolism book, Masons are taught that sacred Pythagorean geometry connects man to nature by teaching him about its most concealed recesses; how things in nature are connected; and that numberless worlds surround mankind which the Great Architect of the Universe has connected through the laws of nature. It is correctly stated that a survey of nature first caused man to study symmetry and order which led to the discovery of every useful art. Freemasonry also teaches that the Supreme Intelligence pervades all nature and which is further described in the book of Revelation as the Sea of Glass.
The Masonic Symbolism Book Rites of Mithra also gave Freemasonry the symbolism of the lesser lights, i.e., the sun, moon and Mercury (later replaced with Master of the lodge). That symbolism is intended to explain the natural order of hierarchical authority – as the sun rules the day and the moon governs the night, so should the Worshipful Master, with equal regularity, rule and govern the lodge. Yet, even with such pervasive evidence of the Mithraic influences on Freemasonry, what is the significance of the grip of the lion’s paw?
Those initiated into the Mithraic mysteries passed through three important degrees. In the first degree, the candidate was taught about his own spiritual nature which must be manifested through disciplined conduct. In the second degree, the candidate was instructed that he represented the mediator between good and evil, light and darkness and was sent into a dark pit to wage battle against the beasts of lust. Finally, in the third degree, he was provided a cape with designs of the zodiac, including the sign of Leo, which represented a lion. The candidate is said to have risen from the grave by the power generated from the sun’s influence on Leo – or the strong grip of the lion’s paw. In that other Mithraic symbolisms are found in Masonic symbolism, the possibility that this symbolism also originated from those rites cannot be ignored. Yet, even so, what is the symbolic importance to Masons?
Mithra derived from the teachings of Zarathrustra which taught that good and evil existed in the world side-by-side. Masons are taught by one of its “ornaments” that human existence is checkered with good and evil. Real life experiences prove that to be so – the battle between good and evil was vividly on display during the Second World War, as well as during the course of other well known conflicts. The Rites of Mithra also teach that eventually good will prevail over evil, as symbolized by the energy of the sun rising each day in the east. It is said that that great orb is enabled to rise because of the strength of the Leo residing in its orbit – the grip of the lion’s paw!
As Freemasons pass through the three degrees necessary to finally achieve the status of Master Mason, they become starkly aware that the Craft demands of them a participation in exercises intended to make them morally straight – good soldiers for the cause of good in the conflict between good and evil, light and darkness. Symbolically rising from the tomb of transgression, the candidate is at last acknowledged as being sufficiently prepared to exemplify goodness to the rest of the world. Whether or not he makes as good use of those tools as have Master Masons in ages past is strictly up to the individual candidate. He may choose goodness or evil, light or darkness; and in so doing either creates the temple wherein the Supreme Architect of the Universe will reside, or the tomb into which evil will eventually be cast.
The Freemason who knows why he was raised will never, never, never die. He was not raised by falsehood and chicanery – he was raised by the grip of the lion’s paw.