This is a significant word in Royal Arch Masonry, and has been generally explained as being the name by which Jehovah was worshiped among t he Egyptians. As this has been denied and the word asserted to be only the name of a city in Egypt, it is proper that some inquiry should be made into the authorities on the subject. The first mention of On in the Bible is in the history of Joseph, to whom Pharoah gave "to wife Asenath, the daughter of Potipherah, priest of On." The city of On was in Lower Egypt, between the Nile and the Red Sea, and "adorned," says Philippson, "by a gorgeous temple of the sun, in which a numerous priesthood officiated." The investigations of modern Egyptologists have shown that this is an error. On was the name of a city where the sun-god was worshiped, but On was not the name of that god. Champollion, in his Dictionnaire Egyptien, gives the phonetic characters, with the figurative symbols of a serpent and disk, and a seated figure, as the name of the sun-god. Now, of these two characters, the upper one has the power of R. and the lower of A, and hence the name of the god is Ra. This is the concurrent testimony of Bunsen, Lepsius, Gliddon, and all later authorities.
But although on was really the name of a city, the founders of the Royal Arch had, with the lights then before them, assumed that it was the name of a god, and had so incorporated it with their system. With better light than theirs, we can no longer accept their definition; yet the word may still be retained as a symbol of the Egyptian god. We know not who has power to reject it; and if scholars preserve, outside of the symbolism, the true interpretation, no harm will be done. It is not the only significant word in Freemasonry whose old and received meaning has been shown to be incorrect, and sometimes even absurd. Referring to the expressions by Doctor Mackey. "This is a significant word in Royal Arch Masonry and has generally been explained, as being the name by which Jehovah was worshiped among the Egyptians." . . . "But although on was really the name of a city, the founders of the Royal Arch had, with the lights then before them, assumed that it was the name of a god and had so incorporated it with their system," Brother David E. W. Williamson writes as follows: This, it seems to me, gives a wrong impression of the Royal Arch use of the word. " on " is certainly one of the names of the deity of Israel, and it will be found by reference to the Septuagint that, which the Authorized Version renders "I am that I am," is actually translated into Greek as "I am the Being." For several centuries in the earlier part of the Christian era, the Septuagint was Considered to be co-ordinate with, if not superior to, the Hebrew text as authority and by the vast number of worshipers under the Orthodox rite the Greek Version is and always has been regarded with the same veneration as English speaking people regard the Authorized Version. To these worshipers, therefore, ON is one of the names of the Almighty. The effect of the word; if I may make the suggestion, merely intensifies the meaning of THE Being, so that, as nearly as we can translate the sense into English, the original Biblical expression would be "I AM--there, you see, I AM." If you have Westcott and Hort handy and will refer to Revelations 14, you will see that the phrase which the Authorized Version renders " Grace be unto you, and peace from him which is and which was and which is to come" is literally "From the being and the was and the coming "From the On." And see especially verse 8 in the same chapter: etc. It seems to me that when we say Supreme Being, referring to the Almighty, we are exactly expressing the word that meant to the Yahwist redactor of the Pentateuch and On to the Septuagint translators, as well as to the Hebrew Christian who wrote the Apocalypse.
Godfrey Higgins (Celtic Druids, page 171) quotes an Irish commentator as showing that the name Ain or on was the name of a triad of gods in the Irish language. "All etymologists, " Higgins continues, "have supposed the word on to mean the sun; but how the name arose has not before been explained."
In another work (Anacalypsis, volume i, page 109), Higgins makes the following important remarks: "various definitions are given of the word on; but they are all unsatisfactory. It is written in the Old Testament in two ways, sun, and an. It is usually rendered in English by the word on. This word is supposed to mean the sun, and the Greeks translated it by the word On, or Sol. But I think it only stood for the sun, as the emblem of the procreative power of nature." Bryan says (Mythological Antiquity, volume i, page 19), when speaking of this word: "On, Eon or Aon, was another title of the sun among the Amonians. The Seventy, where the word occurs in the Scriptures, interpret it the sun, and call the City of on, Heliopolis; and the Coptic Pentateuch renders the City on by the City of the Sun."
Plato, in his Timoeus, says: "Tell me of the god ON, which is and never knew beginning." And, although Plato may have been here thinking of the Greek word QN, which means Being, it is not improbable that he may have referred to the god worshiped at on, or Heliopolis, as it was thence that the Greeks derived so much of their learning. It would be vain to attempt to make an analogy between the Hindu sacred word Aum and the Egyptian on. The fact that the m in the former word is the initial of some secret word, renders the conversion of it into n impossible, because it would thereby lose its signification.
The old Freemasons, misled by the authority of Saint Cyril, and by the translation of the name of the city into City of the Sun by the Hebrews and the Greeks, very naturally supposed that on was the Egyptian sun-god, their supreme deity, as the sun always was, wherever he was worshiped. Hence, they appropriated that name as a sacred word explanatory of the Jewish Tetragrammaton. Brother Williamson points out here that "As to the Egyptian city of that name, the Egyptian name was used by the Jews (see Brown-Driver-Briggs Lezicon). The Greeks knew it as Heliopolis and could not have mistaken the city for a god" (see also Aum and Om).
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