Thursday, January 27, 2011

Blood Meridian's Chapter 22 - Masonic Symbolism

Blood Meridian's chapter 22, I have claimed, is neglected for its narrative and symbolic significances, specifically, the part after the hangings of Brown and Toadvine and before the eldress at the rocks at the end of the chapter, the part which begins with the two key sentences on page 313 I quoted at the end of the last post, with Revelation terms underscored to show that Revelation could account for quite a few words in this passage. Yet, there is an even bigger set of symbolism that would account for all of these same terms, because Revelation -- moreover, the Judeo-Christian tradition -- is absorbed into this tradition, a set of symbolism that could account for even more terms in this passage, and the tradition is Freemasonry.

I use as my main source here Albert Mackey's Lexicon of Freemasonry and Encyclopedia of Freemasonry because Mackey was a 33rd degree Mason who lived in the 19th C. and was considered an authoritative historian of 19th C. American Freemasonry; the Lexicon and the Encyclopedia were available as sources to McCarthy; and, as we shall see, Mackey's works make a good decoder for Blood Meridian's Chapter 22.

Under the Lexicon's entry "Banners":

General Standard of Freemasonry. ... The escutcheon, or shield on the banner, is divided into four compartments or quarters by a green cross, over which a narrower one of the same length of limb, and of a yellow colour, is placed, forming what the heralds call "a cross vert, voided or;" each of the compartments formed by the limbs of the cross is occupied by a different device. In the first quarter is placed a golden lion on a field of blue, to represent the standard of the tribe of Judah; in the second, a black ox on a field of gold, to represent Ephraim; in the third, a man on a field of gold to represent Reuben; and, in the fourth, a golden eagle on a blue ground, to represent Dan. Over all is placed, as the crest, an ark of the covenant, and the motto is, "Holiness to the Lord."

Then, under the Encyclopedia's entry "Ark of the Covenant": "Its covering was of pure gold, over which was placed two figures called cherubim, an order of exalted angelic beings, with expanded wings."

Then, under the Encyclopedia's entry "Cherubim": "But all agree in this, that they had wings, and that these wings were extended." Furthermore, the Encyclopedia indicates that the Assyro-Babylonians depicted Kirubi, or Cherubim, as vultures:

Kirubi after the Assyrian type, which formed a Merkabah, meaning a chariot (First Chronicles xxviii, 18), upon which Yahveh was seated. In the Egyptian monuments the gods are often represented between the forward-stretching wings of sparrow-hawks or vultures, placed face to face, and birds of this kind often enfold with their wings the divine Naos.

Now, I consolidate and restate in plainer language the descriptions of the general standard of Freemasonry. It is composed of an escutcheon divided into quadrants, each occupied by one of lion/eagle/bull/man. Above the escutcheon is an ark of the covenant, and surrounding the escutcheon and ark are two cherubim, one on each side. Artists have depicted the ark of the covenant and cherubim in many ways, but all we really know of how the ark looks is that it is entirely covered with gold, and all we really know of how cherubim look is that they have huge wingspans, often represented by vultures.

The coat-of-arms of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), a widely known Masonic organization whose coat-of-arms is a representative design, illustrates well Mackey's descriptions of the components:
[Image from UGLE website, webpage of The Arms of the United Grand Lodge of England]

Now we return to the Blood Meridian passage above to match two more phrases to Freemasonry: "vultures ... whose wingspan so dwarfed all lesser birds" would correspond to the cherubim with huge wingspans and often represented by vultures; and "piles of gold a hat would scarcely have covered" would correspond to the ark of the covenant entirely covered with gold.

The two-sentence passage from Blood Meridian, with the Masonic terms (which include also all the Revelation terms) underscored, now looks like this:

On that lonely coast where the steep rocks cradled a dark and muttersome sea he saw vultures at their soaring whose wingspan so dwarfed all lesser birds that the eagles shrieking underneath were more like terns or plovers. He saw piles of gold a hat would scarcely have covered wagered on the turn of a card and lost and he saw bears and lions turned loose in the pits to fight wild bulls to the death and he was twice in San Francisco and twice saw it burn and never went back, riding out on horseback along the road to the south where all night the shape of the city burned against the sky and burned again in the black waters of the sea where dolphins rolled through the flames, fire in the lake, through the fall of burning timbers and the cries of the lost.

Masonic symbols surround this scene. In the previous scene, the kid finds and carries a Bible to be used in the ark of the covenant in this scene, and in the next scene the kid has a brief stint as a guard for some pilgrims, an allusion to the Masonic lore that Freemasonry originated with the Knights Templar, who guarded pilgrims on the road as well as defended the Temple of Solomon, which in Masonic lore was built by Hiram Abif, the master mason and Freemasonry's honored first Mason.

The "bear" is the only entity in this passage not part of this set of Masonic symbols, as it belongs to a different, and significant, symbolism, to be discussed in future posts.

Masonic symbolism extends to the end of this chapter, when the kid dies and the man is born. It is already present at the beginning, both when the child is born and when the child dies and the kid is born, and it is present also at the end of chapter 23, when the man dies. Masonic symbolism seems to be a sign or a motif of the protagonist's death/rebirth scenes; moreover, those scenes could even be explained in Masonic terms. So, more Freemasonry to come....


  1. Just popped over from Candy's blog - how fun to see a new blog on McCarthy with a kind of eastern focus.

    Will try and check in occasionally - since I am re-reading Blood Meridian the timing is perfect. (Not that I plan on posting much...I have always found posting about CM a little intimidating after being a silent follower of the forum for so long)

  2. Greetings, Underground Baker! Often Eastern and Western ways of thinking do not differ much if at all. I was a silent follower in the CMS Forum at first, very self-conscious, but I got over that quickly because I wanted to join the fun, and once I started posting, words just came out naturally, and some of us just have a lot of words we want, or need, to get out of our systems, as you can see from my or Candy's posts! It's a lot of fun posting, and now blogging, as Candy too would tell you.