The symbolism of the chain is powerful and interesting, much more than evil bondage or slavery. The social practice favored this negative side of the symbolism, and it is notorious that breaking chains has become the emblem of heroes of liberty. But ancient lore, as well as mystic works tells us quite a different story.

First, let us get familiar with the symbolism of the chain. In his well documented A Dictionary of Symbols, Juan Eduardo Cirlot wrote: "Chain. The Egyptian hieroglyphic sign in the shape of a vertical chain of three links formed by two lines intertwining (with a fourth link, left open, at the bottom) holds a dual symbolism: on the one hand, that of the caduceus of Mercury, standing for the dual streams – involution and evolution – of the universe; and, on the other, implying the general symbolism of the chain, that is, bonds and communication.

On the cosmic plane, it is the symbol of the marriage of heaven and earth […]. On the plane of earthly existence it is the symbol of matrimony: each link actually or potentially corresponding to a blood-relationship: father and mother, sons and daughters, brothers. In a wider sense related to the symbolism of bonds and cords, bands and twine, it is a symbol of social or psychic integration along with the secondary but very important characteristic of the toughness of its material. Amongst the Gauls there were comrades in arms who would enter into combat chained together in pairs so that if one died, his companion was bound to fall, too. The Great ChainA saying that is powerfully evocative of the spiritual significance of the chain symbol is attributed to Louis XI of France: presenting a golden chain to Raoul de Lannoi as an award for bravery, the king exclaimed: Par le Pâque-Dieu, my friend, thou art so ferocious in battle that thou must be chained up, for I do not wish to lose thee lest I need thy help once more” [Juan Eduardo Cirlot - A Dictionary of Symbols, Dover Publications, Mineola, N.Y., 2002, pp.42-43 (original title: Diccionario de simbolos tradicionales).].

In order to better understand the importance of the “cosmic plane”, mentioned by J. E. Cirlot, in the economy of chain symbolism, we must add some explanations about the Golden Chain, as presented by Algis Uždavinys: "In the Athenian school of Syrianus and Proclus, the Homeric image of the Golden Chain (seire chruseie, Iliad VIII.18), stretching from Heaven to Earth, was used to describe both the unbroken vertical connection with the first principles (noetic sources of the demiurgic descent, as well as paradigms of the revealed wisdom), and the horizontal, or historical, succession of the qualified masters and interpreters – a succession which was not always based exclusively on direct physical relations. In fact, the Golden Chain is the same as the Hermaic Chain [Hermaike seira, meaning irradiations from the divine Intellect, a chain of great initiates and philosophers and of the great truths revealed through them.] This chain was both the chain of theophany, manifestation, or descent (demiourgike seira), and the ladder of ascent. This imagery of the Golden Chain was inseparable from the metaphysics of light and solar symbolism. Socrates also regarded the Homeric Golden Rope as referring to the Sun […]". [Algis Uždavinys – The Golden Chain: An Anthology of Pythagorean and Platonic Philosophy, World Wisdom Inc., Bloomington, Indiana, 2004, p. xxi (from Introduction).]

We are now prepared to deal with the symbolism of the chain and of the chain of union in Masonic rituals and philosophy. In this paper we are mainly interested by the symbolism of the Blue Masonry, but its significance covers almost every occurrence of the chain of union, including the higher degrees. [By example, in the Anglo-Saxon rituals of Royal Arch Degree we can see the chain of union as performed in the blue degrees of the French Rite or of the Scottish Rites.]

The chain is an ancient symbol of Masonry, but the chain of union is a rather modern development, first operated in French lodges and due, as pointed out by contemporary Anglo-Saxon authors, to a misspelling. The ancient symbol of chain is hiding in full sight in the so-called cable tow, the cord attached to the neck of the candidate, by means of which he is pulled during the initiation process. A symbol of humility at its origin, as well as a symbol of bondage, i.e. disciplined social integration, the cable tow has gained, in Carl H. Claudy’s words, a nautical flavor [Carl H. Claudy – Pocket Encyclopedia of Masonic Symbols, The Masonic Service Association, Washington D.C., 1953, p. 16] when the action of pulling, i.e. guiding through perils and darkness and ignorance, took such a naval appearance. In Emulation catechism the cable tow describes the scope of a brother’s ability, but in Emulation ritual it is a weapon of punishment, as well as the poniard, highlighting the symbolism of bondage. Thus, in Masonic ritual, the candidate first meets the chain that humbles, bonds and coerces. It is through this chain [It seems that the Latin catena comes from a Proto-Indo-European root *kat- which means twine, showing the very close relation between ropes and chains] that he experiences his first guidance towards light. Therefore, we can state that the cable tow or cable-rope is the symbol of discipline, learning by means of observing an installed order. It is only by accepting the chain of a discipline that someone may become an adept and may obtain the spiritual liberation.

Undoubtedly, the chain of union is something very different. We can see its preparation in the medieval development of the old Homeric Golden Chain. Initially, Homer recorded in his Iliad the image of a golden chain that suspends the Earth from Heaven. That was a very sacred image, because it was both an axis mundi, uniting the upper and lower realms of Creation; and a divine commitment, bonding the Earth to the Heaven, thus allowing the communication between these two, keeping the Earth in direct relation with the celestial worlds. As we have already seen, Socrates, in a very plastic manner, pointed to the Sun as a golden chain, because its light and energy, emanated from the sky, envelop the Earth. But later on, Neo-Platonic philosophers saw the golden chain not only as an axis mundi or an umbilical cord, but as a succession of mails arranged as a chain, each mail being another emanation descending from the Supreme Principle to the lowest reality. On the other hand, in Pythagorean environments the idea of a golden chain of initiates emerged: a line of highly evolved beings reincarnated through space and time.

These hermeneutical extensions of the old catena aurea were reinterpreted by great Christian medieval thinkers, such as Thomas D’Aquino, who have elaborated the actual symbolism of the chain of union: a powerful link uniting brothers beyond any boundaries of space or time, certifying the correct and complete communication of a tradition and assuring the unity through multiplicity. Thomas D’Aquino has edited a book named Catena Aurea, a very interesting kind of Christian Talmud, the philosophy of which covers the Catena Aureacomplete actual symbolism of the chain of union.

However, says Henry Wilson Coil [Henry Wilson Coil – Masonic Encyclopedia, Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co., Inc., Richmond, Virginia, 1995, p.253], it was a misspelling that really brought the chain of union into Masonic lodges: "The Tessellated Border or Indented Tessel, sometimes miscalled Tarsal and even worse as Tassel, was a border surrounding the Mosaic Pavement, evidently having tooth-like indentations like a black and white fringe. […] So far, all is well; but at this point the gremlins went to work. The French […] mistook tessel for tassel and tessellated for tasselated and, accordingly, got a picture of a cord with tassels at both ends and, further, they imagined the cord draped around the edge of a tracing board. […] The Germans followed the French lead treating the object as a cord tied in lovers’ knots with two tassels at the ends".

The “cord tied in lovers’ knots” is not a Masonic invention; it was a well-known heraldic element, present in the armories of bishops, abbots, ecclesiasts living in celibacy and widows. The fact that after 1725 Freemasonry adopted Hiram as its Archetypal Master, and Hiram was the son of a widow, might have contributed to the success of the cord with tassels. French authors, on the other hand, point out to the skirret and pencil, consisting of a rope with drum and a marking tool, used to trace the plan of a building on ground. [Dictionnaire de la Franc-Maçonnerie, coordinated by Daniel Ligou, PUF, Paris, 2005, pp. 690-691.] Whatever the truth be, it is sure today that the cord tied in lovers' knots and the chain of union are symbolic and ritualistic elements not to be found in Andersonian Rites. For the other Rites, mainly French and Scottish Rites, it seems that first appeared the cord with tassels and later, round 1817, the ritual of the chain of union.

The cord with tassels and lovers' knots is clearly linked to the symbolism of the chain of union, although it is more than a chain of union. But coming to its symbolic meaning as a chain of union, it speaks of the cosmic order proper to a sacred space: "La Chaîne d’Union ainsi tracée sur les murs du Temple comporte des noeuds qui symbolisent les 12 signes du Zodiaque, celui-ci étant bien l’«enveloppe» de l’Univers. Son rôle consiste alors à maintenir à leur place les différent éléments contenus dans son enceinte de façon à former un tout ordonné et harmonieux où chaque chose est véritablement à sa place. // La Chaîne d’Union, selon sa définition, relie alors et unit tous ces éléments entre eux". [Idem, p. 219.] Pritchard’s rituals show that the lodge is, in fact, a sacred space, an axis mundi uniting Heaven, Earth and The Underground: Question: "What form is the Lodge? Answer: A long Square. Q. How long? A. From East toWest. Q. How broad? A. From North to South. Q. How high? A. Inches, Feet and Yards innumerable, as high as the Heavens. Q. How deep? A. To the Centre of the Earth. Q.Where does the Lodge stand? A. Upon Holy Ground, or the highest Hill or lowest Vale, or in the Vale of Jehosaphat [the name given by the prophet Joel to the place of the Final Judgment, see Joel 3;2 and 12, in KJV], or any other secret Place." [Samuel Pritchard – Masonry Dissected, J. Wilard, London, 1730.] Any axis mundi proclaims a cosmic order; therefore the Masonic lodge is the champion and the result of a cosmic order, too. We speak here, of course, about the cosmic order expressed by the Temple of Solomon. In this context, the chain of union symbolized by the cord with tassels and lover’s knots has the role of defending and maintaining this cosmic order, this harmony.

But, as we all know very well, the chain of union extended its presence and, since the XIX century, became a ritual performed as part of the Masonic ritual. It is performed, as we have already mentioned, in practically all non-Andersonian Rites. It is a moment when all brothers join their hands, standing in circle and looking towards the centre of the lodge. Everything is symbolically important here: the manner of joining hands, the forming of the circle, the words said by the Worshipful Master. Some authors, like Irène Mainguy [Irène Mainguy – La symbolique maçonnique du troisième millénaire, Dervy, Paris, 2006, p. 94], speak about an energy flux circulating through all Masons caught in the chain. Then, adds Irène Mainguy,[ Ibidem, p. 95] "l’unité de la chaîne humaine des mains et coeurs réunis, illustre la parole de l’Évangile: «qu’ils soient un comme Nous sommes un» (John 17;22)."

It is here, in the physical performance of the chain of union, that we can see the meaning of catena aurea put in work: a bond uniting brothers beyond time and space; the communication of sacred tradition (one hand receives, one hand gives); the realization of unity through multiplicity (the unity of the chain through its mails). There are some supplementary connotations that show us more: the circle of the chain is a sacred figure, the best known symbol of perfection, therefore representing both the perfection of God and the perfection of the ideal plan that created the cosmos. When arranging themselves in a circle, the Masons clearly define their chain of union as catena aurea, the great link with the greatness, the efficiency and the power of the sacred. Their bare hands speak about the honesty of hearts, and their joining together in the same position invokes the values of fraternity. In fact, the chain of union may be considered as a higher expression of the fraternal love, based upon agape, the tremendous, invincible, overwhelming and pure love of God, the core of the catena aurea. The biblical verse quoted by Irène Mainguy, a fragment of one of the prayers addressed by Jesus to God, is really the ultimate meaning of the Masonic chain of union: “that they may be one, even as We are one”.

It raises the fraternity to the level of the unity with God. And it might be in that moment that one realizes where the real symbolism of the chain of union stands: the chain of union is, in fact, the light. The light links everything in our cosmos and links our cosmos to God. In that manner, what started with the cable tow of bondage ends into the glory of light.

 Radu Comănescu & Vladimir D\

          Past WW\MM\ of Europa Unită Lodge No.27, Or\ Bucharest


Lodge Europa No.765 Orient of Riccione

On the days 9th, 10th and 11th of May 2008, was held in Riccione the "1st International Symposium of the "Europa" Lodges which brought together all the Lodges called "Europe" from Italy and the European countries.