I would like to speak this month about the Acacia. We in Masonry know of this tree as a small artificial sprig that within the lodge, and on occasions, may cause us to lose our balance at the most unexpected moment. But what else do we know of this tree?
Being found in Africa, this tree has evolved with some interesting defenses. To protect itself against hungry Giraffes it has evolved with thorny branches that protect its fern -like leaves. These thorny branches also have holes and tubes within the spikes which through a symbiotic relationship, serves as homes for stinging ants that stream out and sting anything trying to get a free lunch. For this protection, the ants are rewarded by the Acacia with nutrient-rich nectars found with the tubules.
A member of the Pea family, its harvest yields true gum arabic, a substance used in adhesives, pharmaceuticals, confections, and incense. The bark of most acacias is rich in tannin, which is used in tanning, dyes, and inks. The tree is so hardy, that if cut down to form beams of a house, it will often sprout branches even when they have no roots (reference Job 14:7).
The wood has been associated with the sacred since time immemorial. Within the Bible, Moses was ordered to make the tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, the table for the showbread, and the rest of the sacred furniture from the Acacia. The Hebrews also planted a sprig of the acacia at the head of the grave of a departed friend. It is also a masonic custom at funerals to place a sprig of acacia or evergreen on the casket as “an emblem of enduring faith in the immortality of the soul”.
This leads me to a great essay I would like to share “The Symbolism of Freemasonry” by Albert G. Mackey . Where in chapter 28 “The Sprig of Acacia.”, he explains;
“...Freemasonry is preeminently the symbol of the IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL--that important doctrine which it is the great design of the institution to teach. As the evanescent nature of the flower which "cometh forth and is cut down" reminds us of the transitory nature of human life, so the perpetual renovation of the evergreen plant, which uninterruptedly presents the appearance of youth and vigor, is aptly compared to that spiritual life in which the soul, freed from the corruptible companionship of the body, shall enjoy an eternal spring and an immortal youth. Hence, in the impressive funeral service of our order, it is said, "This evergreen is an emblem of our faith in the immortality of the soul. By this, we are reminded that we have an immortal part within us, which shall survive the grave, and which shall never, never, never die."
The teachings found within our degrees are obvious when looked upon as a ‘Master Mason’. If we perform the duties set forth in our degrees; to God, our neighbor, and ourselves, if we divest our hearts and consciences of all the vices and superfluities of life, we will then fit our minds “as living stones, for that spiritual building, that house not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens.”