Sprig of Acacia


The acacia is a shrub or tree of the mimosa family, native of the warm regions of both hemispheres, particularly to be found in Africa, the Middle East and Australia.  There are said to be some 550 species of the genus, which is distinguished by small regular globose headed, or cylindrically spiked yellow flowers.  In Australia it is more usually known as wattle, having reference to the fact that, because of its hard, fine grain, its durability and it being heavier than water, it is practically impervious to insects that makes it ideal timber for the construction of huts and fences.

There is so considerable a variety of species of wattle, or acacia, that one could plant a number of trees so selected that at least one would be flowering at any given time in the year.  Indeed, at a sheep station near Mount Bryan, South Australia, the driveway to the homestead is lined with trees so selected, as a perpetual memorial to a son killed in action at Gallipoli.

In the Middle East and Northern Africa it was the characteristic tree of the desert wadis, especially of the Sinai and Dead Sea areas, often to be found growing in small clefts between the rocks of the otherwise bare mountainsides.  It was this which inspired Thomas Moore to pen the well known lines …

“Our rocks are rough but, smiling there,

Th’ acacia waves her yellow hair,

Lonely and sweet, not loved the less

For flow’ring in a wilderness.’

Various passages in Exodus and Deuteronomy of the Bible refer to the acacia as the shittah tree, source of shittim wood, so eminently suitable for the manufacture of furniture, cabinets, etc., particularly where durability is a desirable factor.  It comes as no surprise, then, that this was the timber selected for the manufacture of the Ark of the Covenant, and the boards, tables, etc., of the Tabernacle.  Being put to such use a use undoubtedly accounted for the aura of sanctity with which it was surrounded in the minds of our ancient Hebrew brethren.

According to Dr. F. Dalcho (an Atholl Grand Lodge initiate in South Carolina, USA), a well known American Masonic author and orator, the ancient Hebrews always planted a sprig of acacia at the head of the grave of a departed friend.  He claimed that this custom arose from circumstances associated with their ancient laws, which provided that no dead bodies would be allowed within the walls of their city.  As their laws insisted that no priest could actually cross a grave, it was necessary to place some distinguishing mark as a warning.  Undoubtedly because of its durability and other factors previously mentioned, a sprig of acacia was chosen for this purpose.

However this does not apply in the 21st century.

So, when one adds to the factors already discussed the fact that the acacia is an evergreen and, as such, a fitting emblem of immortality, it is easy to understand why a sprig of this tree is so meaningful to our fraternity and is used in so solemn a manner at a Masonic funeral.

One Response to “Sprig of Acacia”

  • I really must admit it’s very stimulating to arrive at a somewhat original blog like yours, good effort. I expect I’ll be dropping by fairly soon. BTW I’ll be looking out for your next comment then.

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