The meaning of the word seven is also indicative not only of the lunar origin of the division of time into periods determined by the phases of the moon, but also of the universality and identity of the ideas attached to the number itself. The Hebrew word schiba, seven, signifies fullness, or completion. In the Saxon, Persian, Syrian, Arabic, Phoenician, and Chaldean, the word seven has the same signification, and without doubt refers to the moon, which "fills," or becomes "complete, "seven days. It is easy to see how a word signifying "filled," or "completed," should be adopted to mark the time when the moon should reach its "full." Before that time she had been increasing in size and light, but now she is filled, or completed; and so, by analogy, the same word in time was also used to mark each period when the other equally distinct, phases of the moon reached maturity.
The "Figure" Seven
Our figures, 1, 2, 3, 4, etc., are called the Arabian numerals because we derive them from the Arabians, who, it is thought, received them from India. Their true origin is lost in the dim light of extreme antiquity. It is, however, probable that, like the zodiacal and planetary signs, they were originally hieroglyphs. Now, as each seventh day, when the moon assumes a new phase, she has traversed just one quarter of her orbit, we might naturally expect that the hieroglyphic representing the word "seven" would, in harmony with the ancient method of writing, be "a right angle, 90°, or one fourth part of a circle." And so, indeed, we find it to be, with only such slight variation as would necessarily result from a constant use of ages, after its emblematic meaning was lost, and only its arbitrary signification was retained. For illustration, let this ~l be the original hieroglyph, denoting a period of a quarter revolution of the moon, 90°, and indicating that the moon has "filled," or "completed," schiba (seven), one of her phases. The change from 1 to 7 is but slight; is but the natural result of the difficulty of rapidly, and without instruments, making a correct right angle by the union of two perfectly straight lines, while the lines becoming slightly curved only tended to give the character a more finished and graceful appearance.
This emblem is not adopted in American Freemasonry, but, placed in the center of a triangle and circle, both emblems of the Deity, it constitutes the jewel of the Royal Arch as practiced in England, where it is so highly esteemed as to be calledthe "emblem of all emblems," and the "grand emblem of Royal Arch Masonry."
The original signification of this emblem has been variously explained. Some suppose it to include the initials of the Temple of Jerusalem, T. H. (Templum Hierosolymoe); but, as the tau cross as an emblem is much older than the Temple of Jerusalem, this can not be correct; besides, no other evidence is offered for this solution than that the letters T. H. stand for the words "Templum Hierosolymoe." We might just as well conclude that the letters stand for "Thrice Holy," "Hiram Tyr-ian," or the name of any other thing for which the letters T. H. or H. T. may be the initials. Neither is any proof offered to show that the emblem is really composed of the letters T and H, instead of three tau crosses united. Others say it is a symbol of the mystical union of the Father and Son, H signifying Jehovah, and T, or the cross, the Son. A writer in "Moore's Magazine" ingeniously supposes it to be a representation of three T-squares, and that it alludes to the three jewels of the three ancient grand masters. But these solutions are also suggested without any proofs, while the fact that the tau cross as an emblem antedates the Christian era, effectually disposes of one of them. It has also been said that it is a monogram of Hiram and Tyre, and others assert that it is only a modification of the Hebrew letter shin, which was one of the Jewish abbreviations of the sacred name. Oliver thinks, from its connection with the circle and triangle in the Royal Arch jewel, that it was intended to typify the sacred name as the author of eternal life.
The same objection may be made to these conjectures: no proof is advanced by their authors to support them, while the monuments and hieroglyphs of Egypt show that the tau cross was in use as an emblem before the era of Hiram. Dr. Mackey says that, among so many conjectures, he need not hesitate to offer one of his own, and remarks as follows:
The prophet Ezekiel speaks of the tau, or the tau cross, as the mark distinguishing those who were to be saved, on account of their sorrow for their sins, from those, who, as idolaters, were to be slain, it was a mark or sign of favorable distinction, and with this allusion we may, therefore, suppose the triple tau to be used in the Royal Arch degree as a mark designating and separating those who know and worship the true name of God from those who are ignorant of that august mystery.
This is much nearer the truth, but is not, after all, any explanation of either the meaning or origin of the emblem itself. It is only a suggestion of the reason why it may have been adopted by the Royal Arch degree, as being appropriate to its spirit. Dr. Mackey leaves us in the dark why Ezekiel speaks of it as an emblem of life and salvation:
The English Royal Arch Lectures say that "by its intersection it forms a given number of angles that may be taken in five several combinations; and, reduced, their amount in right angles will be found equal to the five Platonic bodies, which represent the four elements and the sphere of the universe."
But this, if true, throws no light on the subject. The tau cross, as an emblem in various forms, is found on the ancient monuments of Egypt, and in order to discover its real meaning, and how it came to be used as a symbol, we will have to go back to a period long before the era of King Solomon.
Q. What is the origin and meaning of the triple tau?
A. The triple tau is the ancient symbol of the tau cross, three times repeated and joined at a common center. The tau cross is the same in shape as the Greek letter T, which is also called tau, and was anciently considered as an emblem of life. It was held to be a sacred mark, and was placed upon the foreheads of those who escaped from shipwreck, battle, or other great peril of life, in token of their deliverance from death. This is why the tau is mentioned in Ezekiel (4:4-6) as the "mark set upon the foreheads of the men" who were to be preserved alive. The name by which this emblem is known points to its origin, and also the reason why it is selected as an emblem of life. The word tau is derived from an Egyptian or Coptic root, meaning a bull or cow, and the constellation anciently marking the vernal equinox. This word, with a Latin or Greek termination, is found in both those languages—Taurus (Latin), a bull, and the Tauros (Greek), meaning the same. The ancient hieroglyphic sign of the constellation Taurus and the vernal equinox is in the form, V, as an astronomical sign, representing the face and horns of a bull. It is now considered established that letters were derived from the ancient hieroglyphs, and, when the phonetic mode of writing was invented, many of those letters retained the name of the object which the original hieroglyphs, or pictures, were intended to represent.
These hieroglyphs, in process of time, assumed a form more and more arbitrary, so much so that, at last, they lost almost all resemblance to the original picture, of which, however, many of them still retained the same. It was thus that the drawing of the face and horns of a bull became a mere outline, and assuming this form as an astronomical sign. Even this did not remain permanent, for, after it came to be used as a letter, it happened, either from carelessness or convenience in writing, that the circle representing the face of the bull became a straight line. The same kind of a change appears to have taken place with the original picture of Aries, or the head and horns of a ram; which from the actual picture, became finally like this, T, its present form as an astronomical sign. It was in just the same way that Taurus, became changed, as shown by Figure 3, after it came into use as a letter. The next change was as shown by Figure 4, and, finally, the semicircle of the horns, like the circle formerly representing the face, became a straight line also, and the character assumed this form, T.
These changes may be represented at one view, as follows:
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