These masonic ensigns have their origin in the Hebrew tribal coat of arms, which has several different designs. Reuben is represented with mandrakes, a sun, or flowing water; Simeon with with a fortified city or a sword; Levi with the seven branched candlestick (menorah) or the breast plate of the high priest; Judah with the lion or a crown; Dan with a set of scales or a snake (sometimes in combination); Naphthali with a hind; Gad with a camp; Ashur with an olive tree (sometimes shewn as a palm tree) or a goblet; Issachar by a sun and moon, a book scroll, or an ass; Zebulon with a ship; Joseph with grapes of wine, a unicorn, ox, palm tree, or ear of wheat; Manasseh with grapes of wine or a unicorn; Ephraim with an ox or a palm tree; and lastly Benjamin with a wolf, altar of burnt offering, or a set of eating utensils. Notice the similarities between the symbols of Joseph and his sons Manasseh and Ephraim, who succeded him and inherited his ensigns.
Looking at some of the designs of these tribal symbols it becomes obvious that there exists a tentative correspondence between the twelve tribes and the Signs of the Zodiac, and that the Israelites probably employed astrology at some level in their teachings. It therefore comes as no surprise to us then that MacGregor Mathers in his side lecture, which originally was given to Practici 3°=8° but nowadays often are studied at the level of 1°=10° Grade of Zelator, attributes the Twelve Tribes of Israel to the twelve Signs of the Zodiac (which are attributed to the twelve banners of Royal Arch Freemasonry) thus:
- Aries – Gad (Troop of cavalry on a white background)
- Taurus – Epharim (Ox on a green background)
- Gemini – Manasseh (Vine by a wall on a pink background)
- Cancer – Issachar (Ass on a sky blue background)
- Leo – Judah (Lion on a crimson background)
- Virgo – Naphthali (Hind on a blue background)
- Libra – Ashur (Cup on a purple background)
- Scorpio – Dan (Eagle/serpent on a green background)
- Sagittarius – Benjamin (Wolf on a green background)
- Capricorn – Zebulun (Ship on a puple background)
- Aquarius – Reuben (Man/wavy lines on a red background)
- Pisces – Simeon (Sword on a yellow background)
The following is the order by birth, of the children of Jacob: Leah bore Reuben (Aquarius), Simeon (Pisces), Levi, afterwards withdrawn, and Judah (Leo). Bilhah (Rachel’s maid) bore Dan (Scorpio), and Naphthali (Virgo), Zilpah (Leah’s maid) bore Gad (Aries) and Ashur (Libra). Leah again bore Issachar (Cancer), Zebulun (Capricorn) and Dinah (a daughter). Rachel bore Joseph, whose sons were Manasseh (Gemini) and Ephraim (Taurus), but died at the birth of Benjamin (Saggitarius), whom she wished to call Ben-oni.This arrangement of Tribes and Zodiac does however reflect traditional Masonic attribution, but not of the Royal Arch. In his book Morals and Dogma from 1871 Albert Pike presents an identical arrangement to that of Mathers and even corroborates his explanations. In his chapter about the 25° of the Scottish Rite Pike gives a rather lengthy explanation of the mythos surrounding Astrological symbolism, and says thus regarding the Twelve Tribes of Israel:
There is an astonishing coincidence between the characteristics assigned by Jacob to his sons, and those of the signs of the Zodiac, or the planets that have their domicile in those signs.Mathers surely drew heavily on this part of Pike’s book for his lecture on the Twelve Tribes. He also, as do Albert Pike in the above quoted book, refer to the encampment of the Tribes around the Tabernacle in the Wilderness as explained in Numbers of the Old Testament, as seen in this diagram (aligned with the top towards the East):
Reuben is compared to running water, unstable, and that cannot excel; and he answers to Aquarius, his ensign being a man. The water poured out by Aquarius flows toward the South Pole, and it is the first of the four Royal Signs, ascending from the Winter Solstice.
The Lion (Leo) is the device of Judah; and Jacob compares him to that animal, whose constellation in the Heavens is the domicile of the Sun; the Lion of the Tribe of Judah; by whose grip, when that of apprentice and that of fellow-craft, – of Aquarius at the Winter Solstice and of Cancer at the Vernal Equinox, – had not succeeded in raising him, Khürüm was lifted out of the grave.
Ephraim, on whose ensign appears the Celestial Bull, Jacob compares to the ox.
Dan, bearing as his device a Scorpion, he compares to the Cerastes or horned Serpent, synonymous in astrological language with the vulture or pouncing eagle; and which bird was often substituted on the flag of Dan, in place of the venomous scorpion, on account of the terror which that reptile inspired, as the symbol of Typhon and his malign influences; wherefore the Eagle, as its paranatellon, that is, rising and setting at the same time with it, was naturally used in its stead. Hence the four famous figures in the sacred pictures of the Jews and Christians, and in Royal Arch Masonry, of the Lion, the Ox, the Man, and the Eagle, the four creatures of the Apocalypse, copied there from Ezekiel, in whose reveries and rhapsodies they are seen revolving around blazing circles.
The Ram, domicile of Mars, chief of the Celestial Soldiery and of the twelve Signs, is the device of Gad, whom Jacob characterizes as a warrior, chief of his army.
Cancer, in which are the stars termed Aselli, or little asses, is the device of the flag of Issachar, whom Jacob compares to an ass.
Capricorn, of old represented with the tail of a fish, and called by astronomers the Son of Neptune, is the device of Zebulon, of whom Jacob says that he dwells on the shore of the sea.
Sagittarius, chasing the Celestial Wolf, is the emblem of Benjamin, whom Jacob compares to a hunter: and in that constellation the Romans placed the domicile of Diana the huntress.
Virgo, the domicile of Mercury, is borne on the flag of Naphtali, whose eloquence and agility Jacob magnifies, both of which are attributes of the Courier of the Gods. And of Simeon and Levi he speaks as united, as are the two fishes that make the Constellation Pisces, which is their armorial emblem.
Here I would like to return to the above mentioned quotation by Albert Pike where I made some spontaneous observations: Aquarius (Reuben) is attributed to the Winter Solstice at the South (i.e. along the South and North axis) and Cancer (Issachar) is placed at the point of the Vernal Equinox which is in the East. Thus Pike clearly attributes the Solstices to the South and North axis and the Equinoxes to the East and West. He deals with these points of the compass and the Equinoxes and Solstices in quite some length preceding this part of Morals and Dogma, clearly attributing the Solstices to the South and North axis and Equinoxes to the East and West in the same manner.
Mathers then explains the attribution of the twelve Signs of the Zodiac thus:
Of these, especially the Bull (Taurus), the Lion (Leo), the Scorpion (Scorpio, but in good symbolism the Eagle) and the Man (Aquarius) are to be noted as forming the Kerubic figures of Ezekiel and John. To these Signs are allotted the tribes of Ephraim, Judah, Dan and Reuben, who, as we shall presently see, encamped towards the Cardinal Points around the Tabernacle of the Congregation, and as the leaders of the others. The Signs of the Twins (Gemini), the Fishes (Pisces), and in a certain sense as a compounded figure, the Centaur (Sagittarius) armed with a bow, are also called bi-corporate, or double-bodied Signs. To these refer Manasseh (Gemini), Simeon (Pisces) and Benjamin (Sagittarius). Manasseh was divided into two half tribes with separate possessions (being the only tribe thus divided), and thus answers to the equal division of the Sign of the Twins, Castor and Pollux, the Great Twin Brethren. Simeon and Levi are classed together, like the two Fishes in the Sign, but Levi is withdrawn later, to form as it were the binding and connecting link of the Tribes, as the priestly caste. Benjamin is the younger brother of Joseph, for Rachael had only these two sons, and is the only one of the sons of Jacob who at his birth was called by two names, for Rachel called him “Ben oni,” but his father Benjamin, and in the Sign of the two natures of Man and Horse are bound together in one symbol.So, as can be seen in this arrangement it’s true that Mathers here places the Signs of the Equinoxes in South (Aries) and North (Libra), and Summer Solstice (Leo) in East. But looking at the total arrangement of the Twelve Tribes of Israel and the associated twelve Signs of the Zodiac one sees a haphazard arrangement, not following any Zodiacal astrological order according to the heavens but instead relating the Tribes to the four Quarters according to their Maternal Ancestors, with the exception of the ones descending from the mother Zipah, i.e Gad (Aries) and Asher (Libra).
Save for the Kerubic emblems, the arrangement seems at first very confused; but when we notice the Maternal Ancestors of the Tribes, this confusion disperses, and we notice that at the East are three tribes descended from Leah, viz. Judah, Issachar and Zebulon. Opposite to them, towards the West, three tribes descended from Rachel, viz. Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin. At the South are two descended from Leah and one descended from Zilpah, viz. Reuben, Simeon and Gad, and at the North, two descended from Bilhah and one descended from Zilpah, viz. Dan, Naphthali and Asher. Here two tribes descended from Zilpah, Gad (Aries) and Asher (Libra), are the only ones separated, and placed in opposition to each other, for these are two signs of the Equinoxes.So says MacGregor Mathers. So we are not being presented with a Zodiacal Wheel at all in this document, and thus shouldn’t attribute any actual value to the placement of the Equinoctal Tribes of Gad and Asher in South and North respectively; the emphasis lays on the fact that they are separated. The Kerubic (or Fixed) Signs for example, which are placed at the Cardinal Points, are not following the astrological order at all, being placed thus:
Leo (Fire) in East, Aquarius (Air) in South, Taurus (Earth) in West, and Scorpio (Water) in North.Following the actual arrangement of the Zodiacal wheel they should instead be placed in the following quarters, which coincides with the Hexagram Ritual mentioned in the previous essay, thus:
Leo (Fire) in East, Taurus (Earth) in South, Aquarius (Air) in West, and Scorpio (Water) in North.Interestingly enough, this confusing placement around the Tabernacle explains the peculiar arrangement of the original Kerubic symbols on the Tablet taken from the 1°=10° Grade of Zelator called “the Table of Shewbread”, of which this side lecture by Mathers is supposed to be a companion study as it explains the origin of the allotment of the Tribes to the Signs of the Zodiac. The old Golden Dawn version of the Table of Shewbread is shewn below:
I concur with modern Golden Dawn scholars that these Kerubic symbols around the Pentagram in the centre should follow the traditional Golden Dawn attribution of the four winds of the Elements and the Pentagram Ritual, thus:
Aquarius (Air) in East, Leo (Fire) in South, Scorpio (Water) in West, and Taurus (Earth) in North.In this arragement the positions of the Kerubic emblems of Scorpio (Eagle) and Aquarius should be reversed on the above appended illustration. Thus (oriented as the Shewbread diagram is with the top to the East) the corrected or reformed Table of Shewbread diagram is an ample blue print for the attributions of the Temple floor, which places the Zodiacal Sign of the Vernal Equinox (Aries) and the Kerubic emblem of Elemental Air in the East. The student should visualize this pattern on the Temple floor of his or her personal oratory.
However peculiar this arrangement of the Fixed or Kerubic Signs around the Tabernacle may seem it does corroborate the emphasis made in the Bible (Ezekiel and Revelation of St. John) and the Golden Dawn on the four creatures of Man, Lion, Eagle and Ox. Albert Pike has this to say regarding these:
The Hebrew camp was a quadrilateral, in sixteen divisions, of which the central four were occupied by images of the four elements. The four divisions at the four angles of the quadrilateral exhibited the four signs that the astrologers called fixed, and which they regard as subject to the influence of the four great Royal Stars, Regulus in Leo, Aldebaran in Taurus, Antares in Scorpio, and Fomalhaut in the mouth of Pisces, on which falls the water poured out by Aquarius; of which constellations the Scorpion was represented in the Hebrew blazonry by the Celestial Vulture or Eagle, that rises at the same time with it and is its paranatellon.Regardless of the truth of the emphasis made on the Kerubic Signs by Pike and Mathers, this arrangement also clearly shows that the astrological arrangement and order of succession as presented by them is broken here. Thus I must conclude that the encampment of the Twelve Tribes as presented in this side lecture of Mathers, corroborated by Albert Pike and his book Morals and Dogma, doesn’t present us with a map of the heavens, at least not on face value. For further study I would suggest a thorough read of Astrological Attributions of the Twelve Tribes of Israel by David Godwin.