The Masonic Legend: Initiatic Symbolism

The Legend of the Three Traitors of Hiram Abiff (First Legend)

FIRST LEGEND – Part 1

“Solomon, the wisest of all the kings of his time, wanting to build a temple to the Eternal, assembled together in Jerusalem all suitable workers for the construction of this edifice.

He had an edict published throughout his kingdom which spread itself over the entire land: that whosoever wished to come to Jerusalem to work on the construction of the temple would be well received and well rewarded , on condition that he be virtuous, full of zeal and courage and not subject to any vice.

Soon Jerusalem was found to be filled with a multitude of men who knew the noble virtues of Solomon and who asked to be registered for the work of the temple.

Solomon, being assured of a large number of workmen, made treaties with all the neighboring kings, in particular with the king of Tyre, to the effect that he might select from Mount Lebanon all the cedars and other woods which were suitable to him, as well as other materials.

The work was already begun when Solomon remembered a man named Hiram, the most knowledgeable man of his time in architecture, who was wise and virtuous, and whom the king of Tyre liked a lot for his great qualities.

He perceived also that so great a number of workers could not conduct their work without a lot of difficulty and confusion; also the work was beginning to be greatly hampered by the discussions which prevailed among them; so Solomon resolved, then, to give them a worthy chief capable of maintaining good order, and made the choice of this to be Hiram, an Ethirian by nationality; he sent deputies loaded with gifts to the king of Tyre, in order to implore him to send the famous architect named Hiram.

The king of Tyre, charmed by the high notion that Solomon showed him, accorded him, sending him Hiram and his deputies filled with riches and amity for Solomon, and to tell him that, despite the treaty that they had made together, he accorded Solomon an alliance forever, placing at his disposition all that could prove useful to him in his kingdom.

The deputies arrived in Jerusalem, accompanied by Hiram, on July 15… a beautiful summer day. They entered into Solomon’s palace. Hiram was received with all the pomp and magnificence due his great qualities. The same day Solomon gave a festival for all the workers in honor of his arrival.

The next day, Solomon assembled the council chamber to settle matters of importance; Hiram was among them and was received with favor; Solomon said to him before all in attendance:

“Hiram, I chose you as chief and great architect of the temple, as well as for the workers. I give you full power over them without them needing another opinion other than yours; thus I regard you as my friend to whom I would confide the greatest of my secrets.”

Next they left the council chamber and went to work, among all the workers, where Solomon himself said in a loud and intelligible voice, while showing Hiram to them:

“Here is the man I have chosen as your chief and to guide you; you will obey him as you would me, I give him all power over you and over the work, those who will become rebellious to my orders and to his, will fall under penalty and will be punished in whatever manner he judges appropriate.”

Then they made a tour of the jobsite; and everything was put into Hiram’s hands, who promised Solomon to put everything in to good working order.

The following day, Hiram assembled all the workers and said to them:

“My friends, the King, our master, has charged me with the custody of maintaining order among you and of regulating all the work of the temple. I have no doubt that all of you are filled with zeal to execute his orders and mine. There are those among you who merit distinguished salaries; each one of you may attain this through evidence, which will show the future of one’s work.

It is for your own rest and to distinguish your zeal that I am going to form three classes out of all of you who are workers: the first will be composed of apprentices, the second of those of companions, and the third of those of masters. The first will be paid accordingly, and will receive their salary at the door of the temple, at column J. The second, also at the door of the temple, at column B. And the third in the sanctuary of the temple.”

Payment was found to be greater according to rank, and each of them was found to be happy to be under the authority of such a worthy chief.

Peace, friendship and harmony reigned among them; the respectable Hiram, wanting for all things to exist in good order, and not wishing for any confusion among the workers, applied to each rank signs, words and grips by which its members could recognize each other, with prohibition to all from confiding these to any others without the express permission of the king or of their chief; thus they received their salary only upon giving their sign, and in such a way so that the masters were paid as masters, the companions as companions, and the apprentices as apprentices.

In accordance with such a perfect rule, each class of workers were in peace, and the work continued as Solomon desired it should.

But could so fine an order remain for long without upset and without revolution?

 

FIRST LEGEND – Part 2

No. In fact, three companions, pushed by greed and envy to receive the pay of masters, resolved to know the word of the master; and as they could only obtain it from the respectable master Hiram, they formed the design to get it from him either in good will or by force.

Since the respectable Hiram went everyday into the sanctuary of the temple, in order to make his prayers to the Eternal, around five o’clock in the evening, they agreed together to wait for him to exit, and then to demand of him the word of the masters; and there being three doors to the temple, one to the east, one to the west and the other to the south, they divided themselves between these three doors, one armed with a ruler, one with a lever and the other with a mallet; and so they waited for him.

Hiram, having finished his praying, wanted to exit through the door of the south, where he encountered one of the traitors, armed with a ruler, who stopped him and demanded the word of the master.

Hiram, astonished, explained to him that it was not in this way that he might obtain it and that he would rather die than give it to him.

The traitor, enraged by his refusal, struck him with his ruler.

Hiram felt he had been struck and, stunned from the blow, withdrew and tried to exit through the door of the west, where he encountered the second traitor who demanded the same as the first.

Hiram still refused to give him the word, which also enraged this traitor who struck him a blow with the lever, that made Hiram stumble back inside, and withdraw towards the door of the east; but the third traitor, who was waiting for him there, stopped him and demanded of him the same as the preceding ones.

Hiram told him that he preferred death rather than to declare to him a secret he did not yet merit.

This traitor, offended by his refusal, gave him so great a blow with his mallet that he killed him.

As it was still day, the traitors took the body of Hiram and hid it in a pile of waste north of the temple, waiting for night in order to transport it further away.

In fact, as soon as it was night, they transported it out of the city, to a high mountain, where they buried it, and since they had decided that they would take it even further away at another time, they planted on the grave an acacia branch so as to be able to recognize the place, and then all three of them returned to Jerusalem.

The respectable Hiram was in the habit of going daily, first thing in the morning, to Solomon, to give him an account of the work, and to receive his orders.

Solomon, not seeing Hiram on the following day, sent one of his officers to fetch him, but the man returned saying he had searched everywhere and that no one had been able to find him.

This answer saddened Solomon, who went himself to look for him in the temple and had a thorough search made of the whole city.

The third day, Solomon, having gone to pray in the temple’s sanctuary, came out by the eastern door.

There he was surprised to see a few traces of blood; he followed them to the pile of waste in the north; he had it searched and nothing else was found, except that it had been recently disturbed.

He trembled with horror, and took it as a sign that Hiram had been murdered.

He went back into the temple to weep at the loss of such a great man; then he went into the court of the temple, where he called together all the masters and said to them: “My brothers, the loss of your chief is certain.”

At these words, each of them fell into a deep sadness, which brought about a long period of silence, interrupted at last by Solomon, saying that nine from among them must resolve to leave to search for the body of Hiram, and bring it back into the temple.

Solomon had scarcely finished speaking when all the masters wanted to go, even the oldest, without regard for the difficulty of the trail.

Solomon, seeing their zeal, told them that only nine of them would leave, and that they would be chosen by the voice of the ballot.

 

FIRST LEGEND – Part 3

Those whom chance selected for the search were so transported by joy that they undid their sandals so as to be more agile, and set out on foot. Three took the road to the south, three took that of the west, and three took that of the east, promising to one another to meet in the north on the ninth day of their walk.

Eventually one of them sat down to rest, and finding himself quite tired and wishing to stretch out on the ground, took hold of an acacia branch for support; but the freshly planted branch, remained in his hand, and this, of course, surprised him, and it was then that he saw a rather large space of newly turned earth and took this as an sign that Hiram was buried in this place.

His strength was renewed; and animated by courage, he went to rejoin the other masters who were meeting back up as the nine had promised each other.

He took them to the place that he came from, and said what he knew, and they put themselves to excavate that earth, being all animated with the same zeal.

In fact, the body of the respectable Hiram was buried there, and when they discovered it, they were seized with horror, recoiling back and trembling.

Then sorrow took hold of their hearts and they wept a long time; but at last they found again their courage; one of them went into the grave and took hold of Hiram by the index finger of the right hand, wanting to raise him.

But Hiram’s flesh was already decomposing and smelled foul, which made him fall back, saying: ‘Iclingue‘, which means ‘he stinks’.

Another took hold of him by the finger next to the index: but the same thing happened to him as had happened to the first, and he withdrew, saying ‘Jakin’. (The response is: ‘Boaz’.)

The masters consulted each other. Since they did not ignore that in dying Hiram had preserved the secret word of the masters, they resolved to change it, and decided that the first word uttered when the body was raised from the grave would serve as the new word.

Then, the oldest one of them entered the grave and gripped the good Hiram just above the wrist of the right hand, pressing his chest against the cadaver’s, his knee and his right foot pressed together, the left hand behind the cadaver’s back and against its right shoulder, and in this way he lifted Hiram from the grave.

His body made a muffled sound which frightened them, but the master, still full of courage, cried out: ‘Mac-Benack‘, which means, ‘the flesh comes away from the bones’. Then they repeated the word one to another while embracing each other, and took up the body of the respectable Hiram and carried it to Jerusalem.

They arrived in the middle of the night, but the moon was exceedingly bright, and they entered into the temple where they put down the body of Hiram.

Solomon, informed of their arrival, came to the temple accompanied by all the masters, who were all attired in white gloves and an apron, where they gave the last honors to the respectable Hiram; Solomon had him buried in the sanctuary and had a gold plate placed on his tomb, which was triangular in shape, whereon was engraved in Hebrew the name of the Eternal; then he rewarded the masters with compasses of gold which they attached to their garments by means of a blue ribbon; and they exchanged the new words, signs and grips.

These same ceremonies are done when pulling the candidate from a coffin, at his reception. The password is Gibline, the name of the small village nearest to where Hiram’s body was buried.”

-from Part Three (‘The Blazing Star’) in THE BOOK OF SPLENDOURS by Eliphas Levi, available in
Ch. 3 of The Gnostic and Esoteric Mysteries of Freemasonry, Lucifer and the Great Work

 

 

The Legend of the Three Traitors of Hiram Abiff (Second Legend)

SECOND LEGEND

“Having buried the body of Hiram in the sanctuary with all the pomp and magnificence due to so great a man, Solomon assembled all the masters together and said to them:
“My brothers, the traitors who committed this murder must not go unpunished, we can discover them, this is why I command you to carry out a search with all the ardor and circumscription possible; and when they are discovered, that no harm at all should befall them; they should be brought to me alive, so that I may reserve the custody of vengeance for myself. To this effect, I command twenty-seven among you to carry out this search, taking care to execute my orders.”

Each of them wished to leave in order to avenge the death of their respectable master; but Solomon, always just in his desires, repeated that only twenty-seven were needed, and that nine would take the eastern road, nine the southern road, and the others the western road, and that they would all be armed with clubs against whatever dangers they might encounter.

As soon as he had them named by the voice of the ballot, those who were chosen left with the promise to carry out the orders of Solomon point by point.

The three traitors, Hiram’s murderers, who had resumed work on the temple after having committed their crime, were seized by fear, seeing that Hiram’s body had been discovered, and they imagined that very soon thereafter Solomon would have some research done to know those who had murdered him; which were in effect the wishes of Solomon, this they learned from other companions, who were to do the research.

They left Jerusalem at nightfall, dividing themselves into three parties, so that since they would not be together, they would be less suspicious and discoverable. Each took flight, going far from Jerusalem, to hide themselves in foreign lands.

The fourth day of walking was scarcely over when nine of the masters found themselves, utterly fatigued, and surrounded by the rocks of a valley at the foot of the Lebanon mountains. They rested there, and as it was becoming night, one of them stood guard ahead of the others, and kept watch, so as to not be taken by surprise.

His affection for the job of watchman caused him to walk some distance away from his companions, so much so that he perceived a tiny light through the crack of a large rock; he was surprised and he trembled, but at last took courage and ran to the spot, resolved to find out what it was.

As soon as he drew near, a cold sweat broke out all over his body in seeing the entrance of a cave from where the light was shining. Courage soon seized him and he resolved to enter.

The entry was very narrow and very low, so that he entered with the body curved , the right hand in front of the forehead to avoid the pointy rocks, the feet one in front of the other, making as little noise as possible; he finally succeeded in this way in arriving at the end of the cave, where he saw a man lying down, asleep on his hands.

He soon recognized him as one of the workers at the temple of Jerusalem, one of the class of companions, and did not doubt that he had come upon one of the murderers, but his wish to avenge the death of Hiram made him forget Solomon’s orders, and he armed himself with a dagger which he found at the feet of the traitor, he plunged it through his body, then cut off the head.

This act finished, he felt himself especially thirsty, when he perceived a spring that flowed at the traitor’s feet, he quenched his thirst, and exited the cave, the dagger in one hand, the head of the traitor in the other, which he held by the hair; in this way he returned to find his comrades, who shuddered with horror as soon as they perceived him.

He told them what had occurred in the cave and how he had found the traitor who had sought refuge there. But his comrades told him that his great zeal had caused him to disobey the orders of Solomon.

Recognizing his mistake, he remained mute, but his comrades, who put great hope in the kindness of the king, promised to obtain from him his grace.

They immediately took the path to Jerusalem, accompanied by he who still held the traitor’s head in one hand and the dagger in the other, they arrived in Jerusalem on the ninth day after they had originally left.

They arrived at the moment in which Solomon was closed up within the sanctuary of the temple with the masters, since they had the custom of doing this every day at the end of their work, to repent the loss of their worthy and respectable master Hiram.

They entered, then, all nine of them, that is to say, eight together, and the ninth still holding the head in one hand and the dagger in the other; and shortly after he cried three times: ‘mecum’ [or “nekum”], which signifies vengeance or “With me comes vengeance!”, and each time he make a genu-flexion.

But Solomon trembling at the sight of this spectacle said to him: “Wretch! What have you done? Did I not tell you that I reserved the custody of vengeance for myself?”

Immediately all the masters placed one knee on the ground and cried: ‘Be merciful to him!’ saying that it was his too-great zeal alone which had caused him to forget his orders.

Solomon, full of kindness, pardoned him, and ordered that the traitor’s head be exposed on the end of an pole covered with iron at one of the doors of the temple, in sight of all the workers, which was immediately executed, while awaiting the discovery of the two other traitors.”

-from Part Three (‘The Blazing Star’) in THE BOOK OF SPLENDOURS by Eliphas Levi, available in
Ch. 3 of The Gnostic and Esoteric Mysteries of Freemasonry, Lucifer and the Great Work

 

The Legend of the Three Traitors of Hiram Abiff (Third Legend)

THIRD LEGEND

“Solomon, seeing that the traitors had divided themselves, believed it would be difficult to discover the two others; consequently he had an edict published throughout his kingdom in which it was prohibited for anyone to take into their homes whomever it may be, unless they already knew them or they had a passport, and promised large rewards to those who might bring the traitors to Jerusalem or give knowledge of their location.

An unknown man, who worked in the quarries of Tyre was well acquainted with a foreign man who had taken refuge in a cave near the quarries, and who had confided in him his secret, making the worker promise to rather have his tongue pulled out than to reveal it.

Since this man came daily to the neighboring village in order to find supplies for the traitor who was in the cave, he found himself precisely in the village at the moment when king Solomon’s edict was published, and seriously reflected upon the reward that it promised to those who discovered the murderers of Hiram.

Personal interest overtook his fidelity to the promise he had made. So, he left, taking the path to Jerusalem upon which he encountered the nine masters deputized to search for the guilty ones, and whom, perceiving that their presence made him change color, asked him where he came from and where he was going.

The unknown man, made a gesture of tearing out his tongue, placed a knee on the ground, and kissing the right hand of the one who interrogated him, said:

“Since I believe, upon seeing you, that you are the envoys of Solomon searching for the traitors who murdered the architect of the temple, I must tell you that even though I promised to keep a secret, I can do nothing else than follow the will of king Solomon, who indicated this to us by an edict that he has just published.

One of the traitors you seek is a day’s walk from here, he has taken refuge in a cave, among the rocks, around the quarries of Tyre, near a large bush.

A dog is always stationed at the entrance of the cave who warns him and informs him as soon as he sees someone approaching.”

The masters, upon hearing this, told him to follow them and to direct them near to this cave. He obeyed and took the masters to the quarries of Tyre, where he showed them the place where the traitor was.

It was the fourteenth day of their walk that they discovered the traitor; as night fell, they perceived the bush, the weather was overcast and a rainbow had formed above, making it seem to burn.

Having stopped to look at this phenomenon, they discovered the cave. They approached, seeing the dog asleep, and took off their shoes to deceive its vigilance.

A few of them entered into the cave, where they surprised the sleeping traitor. They bound him, choked him, and led him back to Jerusalem with the unknown man who had indicated to them the traitor’s hiding place.

They arrived on the night of the eighteenth day following their departure, at the moment when the work was ending.

Solomon and all the masters were in the sanctuary of the temple, as was their custom, to repent the loss of Hiram. They entered presenting the traitor to Solomon, who interrogated him and made him admit his crime.

Solomon condemned him to have his body opened, his heart torn out, his head cut off, and placed at the end of a pole covered with iron, placed at one of the doors of the temple, same as the first, in sight of all the workers. And his body was thrown on a garbage dump to serve as food for animals.

Solomon then rewarded the unknown man and sent him back, satisfied, to his country, awaiting the discovery of the third traitor.”

-from Part Three (‘The Blazing Star’) in THE BOOK OF SPLENDOURS by Eliphas Levi, available in
Ch. 3 of The Gnostic and Esoteric Mysteries of Freemasonry, Lucifer and the Great Work

 

The Legend of the Three Traitors of Hiram Abiff (Fourth Legend)

FOURTH LEGEND

“The last nine masters had begun to despair that they would not be able to discover the third traitor, when, on the twenty-second day of their walk, they found themselves lost in a forest of Lebanon, and were obliged to cross over multiple perilous places. They were obliged to spend the night there; as a consequence they chose places convenient to be able to rest safely from the ferocious beasts which inhabited that wilderness.

The next day, as the sun was beginning to appear, one of them went out to discover the place where they were. From a distance he caught the glimpse of a man with an axe who was resting at the foot of a rock.

It was the traitor they were searching for, who, having learned of the arrest of his accomplices, was fleeing into the wilderness to hide, and seeing that one of the masters was coming towards him, and recognizing him from having seen him at the temple of Jerusalem, so he got up and went towards him believing he had nothing to fear from a single man; but upon perceiving the eight other masters who were approaching at a great pace, he turned and fled with all his strength, which made him recognizable as guilty and showed to the masters that this could be the traitor that they were searching for; which excited the masters to pursue him with vigor.

Finally the traitor, fatigued by the pitfalls which he crossed in fleeing, was obliged to wait for them with a firm foot, resolving to defend himself and die there rather than to let himself be taken alive.

As he was armed with an axe, he threatened to not spare any of them. Paying no attention to his recklessness, the masters, armed with their clubs, approached him, telling him to give himself up.

But stubborn in his sentiments, he mixed himself up in the midst of them and defended himself with fury for a long time, without being able to wound a single one of them, the masters only warded off the blows that he delivered, since they did not wish to do any harm to him before bringing him back to Jerusalem and presenting him alive to Solomon. And to achieve this easier, half of them rested themselves, while the others fought.

Night was beginning to fall when the masters, fearing that the darkness would allow the traitor’s escape, attacked him all together, seizing him at the very moment he wished to precipitate himself from the height of a boulder to the bottom.

Then they disarmed him, bound him and directed him back to Jerusalem where they arrived on the twenty-seventh day after the initial start of their walk, at the same moment that Solomon and the masters were in the sanctuary, doing their prayers to the Eternal and regretting the death of Hiram.

The returning masters entered and presented the traitor to Solomon, who interrogated him, and since he was unable to justify himself, he was condemned to have his belly opened, his entrails torn out, his head chopped off, and the rest of his body thrown into the fire so it could be reduced to ashes and thrown to the four corners of the world. His head was exposed at the end of a pole covered with iron.

Their names were written and attached to each pole, with similar instruments to those they made use of to assassinate Hiram. The heads rested for three days in view of all the workers of the temple. All three had been from the tribe of Judah: the oldest was named Sebal, the second, Oterlut, and the third, Stokin.

The third day, Solomon had a great fire lit in front of the main entrance, and had the three heads, the instruments and the names thrown into it, and had it all burned until it was entirely consumed. The ashes were scattered to the four corners of the world. Everything being achieved, Solomon directed the work on the temple with the assistance of all the masters, and all peace was restored.”

-from Part Three (‘The Blazing Star’) in THE BOOK OF SPLENDOURS by Eliphas Levi, available in
Ch. 3 of The Gnostic and Esoteric Mysteries of Freemasonry, Lucifer and the Great Work

 

 

 

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