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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.

Symbolism of the Sword

The sword used to play an important role in Freemasonry, and still does so in many of the other Orders. In ancient times, it was a regular part of the dressing of a gentleman, but Masons were required to leave their swords in the Tyler’s room before entering a Lodge. Its importance can be seen that even today, most Grand Lodges still appoint a “Sword Bearer”.

Why is the sword so important?

The sword has a classic duality to it. In most cultures, any weapon symbolizes power – but this power can go both ways. On the one hand it kills and destroys, yet on the other it protects and is a central symbol for chivalry. No man was considered a true knight unless he was presented with his sword in an often elaborate ceremony. The Japanese Samurai went one step further, considering the sword to be their own spirit, and it was never to leave one’s side. For this reason, even today, forgers of swords in Japan go through an elaborate ceremony before, during and after forging a new blade.

The Knights Templars swore that they would never draw their swords unless convinced of the justice of the cause in which they were engaged, nor to sheathe it until their enemies were subdued. Many swords, especially those from Spain, often had the following engraved on them “No me saques sin rason. No me embaines sin honor“; meaning Do not draw me without justice, do not sheathe me without honor.

The Tyler’s sword should traditionally be one with a “wavy” blade, to symbolize the flaming sword that was placed at the east of the Garden of Eden, which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life. It should also never be sheathed, as it is the Tyler’s duty to keep off, at all times, “Cowans and Intruders to Freemasonry”.

Thanks to Jim Spreadborough for this article