Richard H. Ryder, 2017
In Freemasonry, we learn the West is both the Senior Warden’s station and the pillar of strength, but it is also where the sun sets in opposition to the East. Where the East is a source of light, the West represents symbolic darkness and ignorance. Where the East represents the world of spirit and the origination of the soul, the West represents the material world into which the soul has wandered. It is in the West where we, as Masons, have symbolically lost something of human value. As a result, we travel from the West toward the East in search for that which was lost, the essence of our being.
The Encyclopedia of Freemasonry implies that the West is not a destination but rather a point of departure, for “in primeval times all human wisdom was confined to the eastern part of the world and that those who wandered toward the West were obliged to return to the East in search of the knowledge of their ancestors”. The Lexicon of Freemasonry mentions that “he who sought light was obliged to leave it [the West] and travel to the East. Thus, in Masonry, it is no wonder that we travel from West to East in search of light.
However, according to Wikipedia the West has and still does possess great meaning for many of the world’s population.
- In Chinese Buddhism, the West represents movement toward the Buddha or enlightenment.
- The Aztecs believed the West was the realm of the great goddess of water, mist, and maze.
- In Ancient Egypt, the West was the portal to the netherworld, or underworld.
- The Celts believed that beyond the western sea off the edges of all maps lay the Outerworld, or Afterlife.
- In Judaism, west is toward the presence of God. The Tabernacle and the Jerusalem Temple faced east with God’s Presence in the Holy of Holies up the steps to the west. Also, the Bible tells us the Israelites crossed the Jordan River westward into the Promised Land.
- Finally, in American Literature moving West has sometimes symbolized gaining freedom.
Thus, the West, through the ages, has had different symbolic meanings, some uplifting and some filled with uncertainty and death. However, for us as Masons it has consistently represented a vantage point of strength. From the west, we face the East where the illumination of light is clearly visible and serves as a beacon toward which we travel in search of truth and understanding.