The word myth, from the Greek a story, in its original acceptation, signified simply a statement or narrative of an event, without any necessary implication of truth or falsehood; but, as the word is now used, it conveys the idea of a personal narrative of remote date, which, although not necessarily untrue, is certified only by the internal evidence of the tradition itself. This definition, which is substantially derived from George Grote ( History of Greece, volume I, page 295), may be applied without modification to the myths of Freemasonry, although intended by the author only for the myths of the ancient Greek religion.
The myth, then, is a narrative of remote date, not necessarily true or false, but whose truth can only be certified by internal evidence. The word was first applied to those fables of the Pagan gods which have descended from the remotest antiquity, and in all of which there prevails a symbolic idea, not always, however, capable of a positive interpretation. As applied to Freemasonry, the words myth and legend are synonymous. From this definition it will appear that the myth is really only the interpretation of an idea. But how we are to read these myths will best appear from these noble words of Max Muller (Science of Language, second series, page 578), "Everything is true, natural, significant, if we enter with a reverent spirit into the meaning of ancient art and ancient language. Everything becomes false, miraculous, and unmeaning, if we interpret the deep and mighty words of the seers of old in the shallow and feeble sense of modern chroniclers."
A fertile source of instruction in Freemasonry is to be found in its traditions and mythical legends; not only those which are incorporated into its ritual and are exemplified in its ceremonies, but those also which, although forming no part of the Lodge Lectures, have been orally transmitted as portions of its history, and which, only within a comparatively recent period, have been committed to writing. But for the proper appreciation of these traditions some preparatory knowledge of the general character of Masonic myths is necessary. If all the details of these traditions be considered as asserted historical facts, seeking to convey nothing more nor less than historical information, then the improbabilities and anachronisms, and other violations of historical truth which distinguish many of them, must cause them to be rejected by the scholar as absurd impostures. But there is another and a more advantageous view in which these traditions are to be considered. Freemasonry is a symbolic institution-- everything in and about it is symbolic-- and nothing more eminently so than its traditions.
Although some of them--as, for instance, the Legend of the Third Degree--have in all probability a deep substratum of truth lying beneath, over this there is superposed a beautiful structure of symbolism. History has, perhaps, first suggested the tradition; but then the legend, like the myths of the ancient poets, becomes a symbol, which is to enunciate some sublime philosophical or religious truth. Read in this way, and in this way only, the myths or legends and traditions of Freemasonry will become interesting and instructive (see Legend ).
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