Sunday, May 29, 2016

‘From the clay grounds between Succoth and Zeredatha?’

I’m always happy to turn the discussion to pipe smoking. Part of the unsung work inherent in being the Magpie Mason is assisting archaeologists identify clay pipes from centuries ago that they unearth in their digs by decoding the Masonic symbols displayed on the clay. It’s not that this happens every day, but it’s often enough that I would remark on it.

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Clay itself figures prominently in Masonic symbolism. In the First Degree rituals in many (most?) lodges in the United States, clay—formerly called “earthen pan”—is grouped with chalk and charcoal as symbolic of the Entered Apprentice’s qualifications. Chalk is said to be the freest of substances, thanks to the ease with which it can leave a trace. Charcoal is dubbed the most fervent, because when ignited the most obdurate metals will yield. And clay is called the most zealous because it is constantly employed in man’s service, and also ever reminds us that from it we all came, and to it we must all return.

Clay also is discussed ritually in lodge when it is explained to the Apprentice how GMHA fabricated sacred vessels for the Temple, as well as the two pillars in the porch.

Because of the mouth-to-ear transmission of ritual from one Mason to another that prevailed for generations before the introduction of official ritual ciphers, errors and anomalies made their way into the work. If I remember correctly, the ritual in New Jersey requires that “clay” be misspoken, with a superfluous second syllable, as “clay-ay.” Thus, the line is delivered: “From the clay-ay grounds between Succoth and Zeredatha.” (Taken from 1 Kings 7: “In the plain of the Jordan did the king cast them, in the clay ground between Succoth and Zarethan.” The Zeredatha vs. Zarethan thing is a whole other story.)

Anyway, this is about pipe smoking. Clay pipes were the ubiquitous standard for several centuries before French villagers discovered the superiority of briar, and began making pipes of that lightweight but durable wood. We’ve all seen the woodcuts and paintings from the Netherlands, England, and elsewhere depicting people of all ages smoking their luxurious tobacco leaves in clay pipes of various lengths. The churchwarden had a length of 16 to 18 inches, ideal for sparing your fingers the dangerous heat of the bowl. Other pipes measured a more convenient seven or so inches. Communal pipes made available in public houses started out at about 18 inches, but had a short section of the stem amputated to afford the next user a relatively clean section to put into his mouth.

So the clay pipe artifacts brought to my attention in this case are shown here. This pipe bowl was found in St. Mary’s Church in Mold in North Wales during renovations. (Photos courtesy M. Jones.)

We can discern most of the Masonic symbolism, but between the condition of the pipe piece, and the quality of the photos, and the artistic license taken in the design, some of the designs leave one guessing.

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Here we’re looking at the pipe’s bowl from the rear. The stem is broken and gone, but we understand this is the view of the pipe the smoker would see while puffing away on his New World tobacco. No question about the compasses at top. Perhaps that is meant to be a square at bottom, or a second compass, the two tools forming a frame inside of which is the radiant sun.

Click to enlarge.

On this side is shown three towers, a trio very commonly seen in English and Scottish (and maybe other) Masonic crests. No doubt about the square below the castles. Below that, however, are a few items I cannot decipher. At the heel of the bowl, I think we’re looking at Jacob’s Ladder with a man in ascent. Albeit seemingly upside down.

Click to enlarge.

On this side we have the crescent moon with Pleiades at the top. A very common pairing seen on tracing boards and other art. Below them is what I’ll say is a level. Below that is something I cannot guess at.

On the front of the bowl (seen only in that group photo above) is something from the vegetable world. Not tobacco leaf, but what seems to me to be a sheaf of wheat.

And finally, here is a photo that depicts a similar clay pipe, shown on a page of Les Francs-Macons et la Mer de la Loge au Quai, published last year to accompany an exhibit at the Grand Orient of France’s museum, in which the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library provided some assistance.


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