Early Scottish Rite 

Tortoise Shell Snuff Box

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The early Tortoise Shell Snuff Box above carries many of the emblems of Scottish Rite Masonry. The main symbol featured of course is the mother Pelican pecking her breast to feed her babies.  The pelican feeding her young with her blood is a prominent symbol of the Eighteenth or Rose Croix Degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, and was adopted as such from the fact that the pelican, in ancient Christian art, was considered as the emblem of the Savior.  Now this symbolism of the pelican, as a representative of the Savior, is almost universally supposed to be derived from the common belief that the pelican feeds her young with her blood, as the Savior shed his blood for mankind; and hence the bird is always represented as sitting on her nest, and surrounded by her brood of young ones, who are dipping their bills into a wound in their mother's breast.  But this is not the exact idea of the symbolism, which really refers to the resurrection, and is, in this point of view, more applicable to Christ, as well as to the Masonic Degree of which the resurrection is a doctrine.  In an ancient Bestiarium, or Natural History, in the Royal Library at Brussels, cited by Larwood and Hotten in a recent work on the History of Signboards, this statement is made:  "The pelican is very fond of his young ones, and when they are born and begin to grow, they rebel in their nest against their parent, and strike him with their wings flying about him, and beat him so much till they wound him in his eyes.  Then the father strikes and kills them.  And the mother is of such a nature that she comes back to the nest on the third day, and sits down upon her dead young ones, and opens her side with her bill and pours her blood over them, and so resuscitates them from death; for the young ones, by their instinct, receive the blood as soon as it comes out of the mother, and drink it."  Dr. Mackey believed the true theory of the pelican is, that by restoring her young ones to life by her blood, she symbolizes the resurrection.  The old symbologists said, that the male pelican, who destroyed his young, represents the serpent, or evil principle, which brought death unto the world; while the mother, who resuscitates them, is the representative of the Son of Man of whom it is declared, "except ye drink of His blood, ye have no life in you."   Hence the pelican is very appropriately a symbol of Freemasonry, whose great object it is to teach by symbolism the doctrine of the resurrection, and especially in that sublime Degree of the Scottish Rite wherein, the old Temple being destroyed and the old Word being Lost, a new temple and a new word spring forth -- all of which is but the great allegory of the destruction by death and the resurrection to eternal life.

 

         

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