What do the five senses mean in a Masonic context?

In the Fellowcraft degree of Freemasonry, there is a lecture that follows that includes discussion of the five senses. They are so described as to their pertinence to Masonry and Masonic recognition, but have a much deeper meaning.

The five senses are seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting. These faculties assist the person in experiencing and understanding the world around them. They frame our experience of the world in a way that our brains can interpret our surroundings and make sense of all that we experience. These five senses, along with the reasoning of our minds helps us to receive data and produce feedback to our surroundings.

The five senses is only one point of many made during the lecture, but it may be the most important. As the student of the Craft learns, as they move along, the Three Degrees are a progressive science. It is this point in the Masonic education that the student becomes aware of the importance of letting go of the strong grasp of the material world and embracing the importance of the spiritual world. Our five senses are the bridge between the known of the material world, and the unknown of the spiritual world.

It is these five senses that are our bodies Graphic User Interface with reality, but just like a computer, the GUI is only part of the equation. The GUI is how the person interacts with the whole of the computer and is able to navigate usage of the machine. This is what our five senses are for our body. As materialism has a strong hold on our bodies, senses and therefore our minds, there is much more to the world and universe that cannot be understood by these five senses. This “beyond” is what the student of the Craft is tasked to explore.

The lecture of Fellowcraft degree uses a winding staircase to represent the ascent of our minds and spirits as we advance in knowledge. The five senses are explained as part of these steps. The part that may not be evident to the casual observer, is that these steps are discussed, but then passed on by. It is not so much the importance of the five senses that is the key, but the overcoming of their grasp on our consciousness. Just like our body is tethered to the earth, our minds are on in the highest point in our physical body. Like an antenna between the earth and the heavens. If we are continually held down by our attachment to the material, it is impossible to advance spiritually.

Check out the following excerpt from the book Symbolic Masonry, by H.L. Haywood for more:

The Five Senses


Five Senses in Freemasonry

Air Element and Sword Symbolism in the Ancient Mysteries

Of all great symbols represented in the mystery traditions, one that really stands out is the image of the sword. It is said to uphold justice and to ward off tyranny. It is a symbol of power, but also of beauty. It is representative of a balance. In it’s sheath, it is symbolically representative of the union of masculine and feminine powers. Though it can inflict pain, it can also protect from the infliction of pain to others. It is a symbol of chivalry and knighthood. It is the chosen weapon to protect the mysteries.

The tarot has what is known as a major, and a minor arcana. These are two different groupings of cards that tell the story of the tarot. The minor arcana influenced what was to become our modern deck of playing cards. It is made up of four suits of ten cards apiece. The suits are swords, wands, cups, and pentacles. These later translated into spades, clubs, hearts, and diamonds. The major arcana is a set of twenty one cards, all with different interpretations. We learn through the esoteric studies that each of the four suits is associated with one of the four elements. For example, the suit of cups represents water, the suit of pentacles represents the earth, the suit of swords represents the air, and the suit of wands represents fire.

The element of Air establishes itself in the intellect and is is thought to be the propagator of thinking and ideas. This concept ties right in with the mystery schools teachings. In all western mystery schools, you will find a focus put on the development of the intellect. An example of this is the Fellowcraft degree of Freemasonry. Through this degree, we are reminded of the liberal arts and sciences, which are the oldest and most tried and true method of intellectual discernment. We are also reminded to continue the search for truth by reading appropriate books and asking questions of our informed Brethren.

Nowhere is the sword more prevalent in the mystery traditions, than in the chivalric orders of Freemasonry. The Order of the Knights Templar is a perfect example. A sword is carried on the left side of each Sir Knight and is used in the rituals for various things. Each one of which has a deep and philosophic overtone. It is through these orders that we learn that the sword is never to be used in an unjust cause and that it is for protection of the feeble and less fortunate. It is also the protector of faith and stands as a reminder of the solemnity of our deep religious convictions. Being the pinnacle of the Masonic teachings, we can see that this use of sword symbolism is putting chivalry and the intellect on the highest of pedestals.

It was mentioned before, that swords in tarot symbolism are tied to the element of Air. When studying the symbolism of the Air element through astrology, we find that it is linked to the planet of Mercury. Mercury was named after the Roman God of the same name. In the imagery of Mercury found in Roman mythology, we see that he carries a caduceus. This is the same instrument that is associated with the Greek God Hermes. Mercury is said to have the same characteristics of Hermes and is thus thought to be a Romanized version of him. It is from the mythology of Hermes, that the tradition of Alchemy was born. This also accounts for Hermeticism, which is a foundation for many of the western mystery traditions. In addition to this (as a side thought), the caduceus is said to represent the awakened Kundalini energy that rises through the chakra system of an awakened individual. The Kundalini is often referred to as “serpent power” as is twists around the spinal column headed up the chakras. The rod of the caduceus is flanked by two serpents. This same concept permeates through eastern and western mystical systems.

As a Gemini, my zodiac is ruled by the element of Air. My desire to expand my intellect is never ending and I am on a search for Divine Truth. The sword that I carry as a Knight Templar rests at my side, ready to defend my faith and to protect the down-trodden. I will use it to cut through the lies and deception that society throws my way. I will always keep in mind the Hermetic Principles and the wisdom of these mystery schools that are conveyed through the element of Air and the image of the sword!