This is going to be a highly controversial article that explores terms and recognition words that are to be found within the initiation rituals of Masonry.
Apart from the one or two words and phrases that are taken from the Bible, these terms are unique to Masonry and not to be found within the English language; which begs the question of their true origins.
The history of Masonry lies within the fertile borders of Egypt, as I have tried to demonstrate on many occasions, and so the biblical story is infused with Masonic hints, rituals and personalities, and so the true history of the Craft lies at the core of this investigation into Egyptian history, theology and mythology.
The signs, grips, knocks and recognition words that form masonic initiations and entrance to Lodge have been largely handed down by rote, and often without any knowledge of their true meanings, and so their original pronunciation may have survived the centuries.
The distortions of the Chinese-whisper syndrome only apply to words that are thought to have a real meaning, where the receiver tries to derive this meaning out of the odd-sounding syllables that they have heard. But if the word is known to be a nonsense word, like hocus pocus or abracadabra, it is likely that the syllables will be simply learned and transmitted phonetically without interpretation or distortion
But while Masonry uses and preserves these ancient words and phrases, the list of presumed meanings given for them are so bland and contrived, it is almost certain that the true meanings have been lost.
Since Masonry appears to have lost the original meanings, and since the Templar origins of Masonry would tend to suggest that this unique selection of terms were formulated during the era in which the Templars were primarily based in France, many authors have sought to discover the meanings of these terms within the French language. But again, I think that many of the derivations that have been ‘discovered’ through this technique appear forced and contrived, and so they are unlikely to be the true fundamental root for these strange words.
However, bearing in mind the investigations that have been made in the book ‘Eden in Egypt’ and my other books, I would suggest that these words and phrases are more likely to have been descended from Egyptian origins, and there is every possibility that the original pronunciation has been preserved. It is also possible that the original meanings have been preserved in some fashion, and that they can be inferred and derived from the context in which the word or phrase is used. If this is so, it may be useful to explore more thoroughly the possibilities of an Egyptian origin for Masonry. Take a look at the following examples:
This term refers to the hand signals that are used for identification of fellow members of the Craft. It is said that this term may have been derived from the French phrase geste du gard which refers to a protective gesture.
In Egyptian terms, this kind of personal identification was often conducted through the use of signet rings. The signet is a personal seal, often embossed into the form of a finger ring, which represented an individual’s signature and was historically used for sealing letters and doors etc. In other words, the prime method of identification for members of the Craft in Egypt would have been the showing of signet rings. As it happens, the Egyptian term dju garti means to ‘give a signet ring’, and this, I believe, is the true origin of this term.
This term refers to the doorman who guards the door of the temple during Lodge meetings. It is said that this may have been derived from the French word tailleur meaning ‘one who cuts’, which is presumably a reference to the sword that the tyler still holds. But when considering the nature of the tyler’s post, and the fact that the Templars derived much of their knowledge from Jerusalem, I think that a much better derivation for the word tyler is the Hebrew term tara (tala) ert which means ‘door’. (The ‘r’ and the ‘l’ being transposed in the normal manner.)
But, as has already been demonstrated, most of the Hebrew language can be derived from Egyptian sources and the word tyler (tyrer) is no exception to this rule. Thus the Hebrew word tara (tala) has been derived from the Egyptian taraa (talaa) which also means ‘door’. Thus, both the pronunciation and meaning of this original Egyptian word fits the masonic usage very well indeed. It would seem likely that in the multitude of intervening generations since the early Egyptian dynasties, the word tara has become tala – in line with all the other ‘l’ to ‘r’ transliterations from this region – and thence to the pronunciation of tyler, and so this masonic term was probably taken from the Egyptian. The tyler is an Egyptian doorman.
Cowan refers to an outsider who might wish to gain entrance to or listen in on a Lodge meeting. There appear to be no French, Latin or Hebrew origins for this word, but there may well be an Egyptian foundation. The Egyptian ku means ‘other people, or ‘strangers’, while unu refers to people who open doors. The combination in the singular would be ku-un, and refer to a stranger trying to open a door. Since the tyler’s responsibility was to prevent cowans from opening the temple door while the Lodge was meeting, a term like ku-un (cowan) would be highly appropriate.
The masonic cable tow is a rope that is tied either around the new candidate’s neck or his waist, depending on the initiation. This ritual is likely to have been derived from the chord that Templars used to wear next to their skin at all times, but exactly what did this rope signify? The French derivation is supposed to be from the word cable which refers to a horse’s halter, and the connection is supposed to be linked to the candidate being restrained by the cable tow around his neck. But the primary image of the cable tow is not as simply a halter (the loop around a horse’s neck) but as a rope that can be tied in various locations around the body, including the waist and the wrist, and so this French derivation is probably invalid.
I suspect myself that the primary source of this word is firstly the Hebrew word cabal lbx meaning ‘rope’. It was through this usage in sacred initiations that the simple rope became a symbol of the Hebrew Cabbalah (Kabbalah), the ancient Jewish mystical sect; and this usage has, in turn, spawned the English word cabal, which refers to a political clique.
There are two similar recognition words used during the Third Degree initiation, and these are Machaben and Machabenach, which are sometimes pronounced as Machabone and Machbonach. However, it is highly likely that these are actually different renditions of the same word, so in reality there is only one recognition word to this degree and candidates are only given both so that they can recognize brothers from other Lodges who use other variants.
This word was purportedly first spoken as Hiram Abif was being raised from his grave, and so it is said that this recognition word represents the death of Hiram Abif. What we are looking for, therefore, is a strong epigraphic association between Machaben and Hiram Abif.
The first syllable is likely to be Macha and yet this term should be rather familiar to readers of my books. As has been demonstrated previously, one of the primary uses of this word was in the titles of the Maakare (Maat-kare) queens of Egypt. However, in biblical traditions the Egyptian name Maakare was Hebrewised into Maakhah hkem, and it was used for many of the famous Israelite queens including the two chief wives of King David and the mother of King Solomon.
In the book “Solomon, Pharaoh of Egypt,” I identified Maakhah Tamar I as possibly being the mother of Hiram Abif, and I also showed how she would have been known as a ‘widow’, after her position as chief queen was usurped by the younger Maakhah Tamar II. Thus Hiram Abif would have become the ‘Son of a Widow’, which is exactly what masonic tradition maintains.
It is entirely possible, therefore, that the recognition word Machaben has been primarily derived from the title of the Maakhah queens.
But what could the suffix of ‘ben’ or ‘benach’ possibly mean? The first obvious answer is that the word ben Nb means ‘son’ in the Hebrew; and when applying this suffix to the word Macha-ben (Makha-ben) we can then derive the phrase ‘Son of Maakhah’; or, when following the logic regarding the Maakhah queens that I have already touched upon, we can also derive ‘Son of the Widow’.
This is said to be the secret masonic name of god, and it has come in for a great deal of criticism recently by non-Masons as it is said to have been derived from three god-names. The word is supposed to be divisible into the syllables Jah hy Baal leb and On Na, which are said to be representative of the three deities of Yahweh, Baal and Osiris. It is this presumed presence of the ‘pagan’ gods Baal and Osiris in a Judaeo-Christian masonic context that tends to get some commentators in a bit of a lather. However, the link between the syllable On and Osiris is tentative in the extreme; Osiris’ Egyptian name was Asar , and to transliterate this pronunciation into ‘On’ is somewhat cavalier. Even the Greeks, whose translations are often suspect, managed to derive Osiris, which is a reasonable attempt at pronouncing Asar.
Instead, the syllable ‘On’ most likely referred to the biblical On, or Heliopolis, a name that was derived from the Egyptian An or On. In its turn, the syllable Baal could refer as much to a ‘lord’ or ‘king’ as the god Baal. This new interpretation would then derive a phrase something like ‘Yahweh is Lord of Heliopolis’, which is probably not much more acceptable to fundamentalist Judaeo-Christian sensitivities, and so Grand Lodge predictably stays silent on this topic.
There is a demonstrable link between Masonry and this magical term, because many magicians down through the ages have been in the Craft. So in translation, it should be noted that the staccato pronunciation of Ab-Ra-Ca-Dab-Ra sounds remarkably Egyptian. As ever, the best method of finding an Egyptian word begins with a perusal of possible Hebrew equivalents, and in this case we find a distinct possibility. This incantation most probably came from the Hebrew phrase abrek(a) dabbarah hrbd Krba, meaning ‘Command the Word’. The reason why this could be the true origin of this Hebrew phrase is that it appears to be a direct and meaningful translation out of the Egyptian, which has some very royal and very Israelite connotations. In the Egyptian, this phrase would have been pronounced as Abreka-Tepre , which again means ‘Command the Word’.
But let’s look at the two elements of this phrase in more detail, for the Hebrew term abrek(a) Krba is actually much more specific than a simple ‘command’. It was actually used in the Bible to instruct the people of Egypt to go down on their left knee before the patriarch Joseph, and it is based upon the Egyptian word abrek(a) which has exactly the same meaning. Meanwhile, the Hebrew word dabbarah hrbd meaning ‘word’, was derived from the Egyptian tep-ra meaning ‘mouth’ or ‘speech’ (words).
Once more, we have a situation where a Hebrew phrase has come directly from the original Egyptian, in both pronunciation and meaning. Furthermore, this ancient phrase has also managed to find its way directly into the modern world virtually unchanged. In this case, the complete incantation of Abreka-Tep-Ra would originally have been a command that meant ‘Go Down on your Left Knee before the Word of Ra’. Although not uttered today in Lodge, abraca-dabra (abraca-tepra) may well have been part of an ancient Egyptian ritual, just as the Bible suggests.