Clean hands are a symbol of purity. The Psalmist says "that he only shall ascend into the hill of the Lord, or shall stand in his holy place, who hath clean hands and a pure heart." Hence, the washing of the hands is an outward sign of an internal purification; and the Psalmist says in another place, "I will wash my hands in innocence. And I will encompass thine altar, Jehovah." In the Ancient Mysteries the washing of the hands was always an introductory ceremony to the initiation; and, of course, it was used symbolically to indicate the necessity of purity from crime as a qualification of those who sought admission into the sacred rites ; and hence, on a temple in the Island of Crete, this inscription was placed: "Cleanse your feet, wash your hands, and then enter." Indeed, the washing of hands, as symbolic of purity, was among the ancients a peculiarly religious rite. No one dared to pray to the gods until he had cleansed his hands. Thus, Homer (in the Iliad vi, 266) makes Hector say: I dread with unwashed hands to bring My incensed wine to Jove an offering.
In a similar spirit of religion, Aeneas, when leaving burning Troy, refuses to enter the Temple of Ceres until his hands, polluted by recent strife, had been washed in the living stream (see the Aeneid11, 718). Me bello e tanto digressum et coede recenti, Attrectare nefas, donec me flumine vivoAbiuero. In me, now fresh from war and recent strife, 'Tis impious the sacred things to touch, Till in the living stream mysef 1 bathe.
The same practice prevailed among the Jews, and a striking instance of the symbolism is exhibited in that well-known action of Pilate, who, when the Jews damored for Jesus that they might crucify him, appeared before the people, and, having taken water, washed his hands, saying at the same time, "I am innocent of the blood of this just man, see ye to it" (see Matthew xxvii, 24).
The white gloves worn by Freemasons as a part of their clothing, as well as the white gloves presented to the initiate in the Continental and Latin Rites, allude to this symbolizing of clean hands ; and what in some of the advanced Degrees has been called Masonic Baptism is nothing else but the symbolizing, by a ceremony, this doctrine of clean hands as the sign of a pure heart (see Baptism Masonic, and Lustration).
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