The writer of the Cooke MS. (1410/1450 A.D.) had before him an original which may have been written about 1350 A.D. The author of that original frankly acknowledges that many of his historical statements are taken from "the polycronicon," a sort of universal history, or omnium gatherum, in which were collected scraps and fragments of lore of many kinds, especially about the remote past, and without any attempt to distinguish genuine history from myths, legends, tales, fables. It was from such a polycilronicon that the writer of the Cooke original drew the story of Noah and the Deluge which the Cooke condenses into a paragraph beginning at line 290. According to the old tale thus taken from the polychronicon men knew that God would destroy the world out of vengeance, either by fire or by water; therefore in order to save them from destruction, men wrote the secrets of the Arts and Sciences on two "pilers of stone." When the vengeance came, it turned out to be by water as Noah had expected, and for 365 days he and his family lived in the Ark. With him mere his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their wives. Many years afterwards, the "cronyelere telleth," the two pillars were found; Pythagoras found one, and Hermes the other.
The 0ld Charges (Masonic MS, Old Constitutions, etc., they also were called) which served as a charter for the first permanent Lodges of the Freemasons were held in great reverence; in them was this story of Noah and the pillars, and it is from this source, it is reasonable to believe, that pillar and column symbolism came to be used in Speculative Masonry; and since the use of the Arts and Sciences traced directly back to Noah's sons who recovered their use after the Deluge, practitioners of them were sometimes called "Sons of Noah." The first, or 1723, edition of the Book of Constitutions of the Mother Grand Lodge touches but lightly on the story of Noah, but in the second, or 1738. edition the whole account is changed, the Arl; itself is described as having been a Masonic masterpiece, and Noah and his three sons are described as "four Grand officers." "And it came to pass as they journeyed from the East of the plains of Mount Ararat, where the Ark rested toward the West, they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and dwelt there as Noachidae, or Sons of Noah . . ." In a footnote the author explains the word: "The Srst name of Masons, according to some old traditions."
What those "old traditions" were nobody knows because there is no evidence that Operative Freemasons called themselves by that name. But it was in some use prior to 1738, for in 1734 Lord Weyrnouth ordered a letter to be sent to the Prov. Grand Master at Calcutta in which this curious statement was included: "Providence has fixed your Lodge near those learn'd Indians that affect to be called Noachidae, the strict observance of his Precepts taught in those Parts by the Disciples of the great Zoroastres, the learned Archimagus of Bactria, a Grand Master of the Magians, whose religion is much preserved in India (which we have no concern about), and also many of the Rituals of the Ancient Fraternity used in his time, perhaps more than they are sensible of themselves. Sow if it was consistent with your other Business, to discover in those parts the Remains of Old Masonry and transmit them to us, we would be all thankful ...." (A. Q. C. XI, p. 35.)
If ever "Noachidae" was in use as a name for Masons it could not have been extensive, because the word (an ugly hybrid) is almost never met with in early Lodge Alinutes or Histories; it is probable that such small use of it as is encountered in American Lodges in the first half of the Nineteenth Century (it is now wholly obsolete) was directly owing to the popularity here of the writings of the Rev. George Oliver u ho never hesitated to give to fancies out of his own mind the same weight as the verdict records of history
There mere two reasons for the place of Noah and his sons in Masonic thought and traditions. It is obvious that the writer of the Cooke MS--or rather, the author of the original of w hich the Cooke is a copy --had an historical problem to solve: if the Deluge destroyed everything how were the Arts and Sciences, Geometry especially, preserved and recorded?
The story of the pillars and of the use made of them by Noah's sons, which, as was seen, he found ready-made in a polychronicon, was his solution. Second, the story of the sons of Noah had a point to it of value for Masons who sought to make clear to their own minds the religious foundations of the Craft. If Masonry w as geometry and architecture it is as old as the world; if it existed in Stoah's time it existed before Christianity, or Judaism either; and yet it now works in Christian lands; how could a "Christian" society have a pre-Christian origin? The answer was that under the separate religions is a ground, or fundament, or matrix of a universal religion which consists of a belief in God and Brotherhood among men, and righteousness. Oliver himself gives one of the clearest expressions of this idea in a paragraph of his in A Dictionary of Symbolical Masonry (New York; 1855; p. 190): "NOACHIDAE, Sons of Noah; the first name of Freemasons; whence we may observe that believing the world u as framed by one supreme God, and is governed by him; and loving and worshiping him; and honoring our parents; and loving our neighbor as ourselves; and being merciful even to brute beasts, is the oldest of all religions."
Not all the versions of the Old Charges contain the Noah story in the same form; the Graham MS. version which has so many details peculiar to itself, and is really an Old Catechism more than a version of the Old Charges, gives the Noah story in a different form and reads in it a different lesson; and it has the lost secrets discovered after the death of Noah rather than after the death of Niram. In his Ahiman Rezon, or Book of Constitutions, writing as Grand Secretary for the Ancient Grand lodge of 1751, Laurence Dermott ridicules the whole story; but it is only as history that he ridicules it, not as symbolism, because (to judge by such written remains of it as have survived) the Ancient Ritual connected the Great Pillars with the two "pillars" in the Cooke MS. Also, in both Ancient and Modern symbolism and in the Royal Arch, the Ark is used as an emblem. (This identification of the Ark with Noah's Ark may be a mistake on the part of Eighteenth Century Ritualists, because before 1717 Operative Gilds kept their papers in a "coffin"-- which later reappears under the name "casket," "the Lodge," and "ark.")
Notes. In a medal struck by Henry Steel Lodge, No. 12, of Winchester, Va., on or about 1809, the emblems on the obverse side include not only the Ark, but also a Dove-- and--what is more interesting--a Raven ! This same medal indicates that in Steel Lodge. the Royal Arch was not as yet disentangled from the Third Degree because on the reverse side of the same medal the Arch is surrounded by the emblem of that Degree. See American Freemason; Louisville, Ky.; Jan. 1, 1855; page 51.
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