Anyone who is familiar with the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry will know of its instantly recognizable emblem – the double-headed eagle. The eagle is proudly adorned on Scottish Rite regalia and has been used within Freemasonry since the middle of the eighteenth century.
But what is the story behind Freemasonry’s adoption of this fascinating symbol? And what does it represent in the 32nd degree of Masonry today? Let’s take a look at the historical origins of the double-headed eagle of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.
The double-headed eagle in ancient civilizations.
There is evidence of the double-headed eagle appearing in ancient Mesopotamian times. At this point in history, multi-headed beasts were commonly used to represent heroes and villains in stories of ancient legends, and to represent the presence of Gods and the underworld.
One of the earliest archaeological discoveries of the double-headed eagle in Mesopotamian symbolism can be traced to the city gate in Alaca Hoyuk in Turkey [1450 – 1180 BCE]. From here, it appeared many times within the Roman and Byzantine Empires, right the way through to the European Middle Ages.
What was the symbol said to represent in ancient civilizations?
The fact that the double-headed eagle has been used within so many civilizations makes it impossible to attribute just one meaning or representation to its use as a symbol. That being said, an eagle is a representation of nobility and power, and often signifies that the bearer of the symbol carries a position of high office or virtue.
In ancient Egypt, the eagle was sacred to the sun and its use was synonymous with the ancient Egyptians’ fascination in the dichotomy of light and darkness. This is pertinent to Freemasonry, given the Craft’s core aim of enlightenment.
When was the symbol first used within Freemasonry?
The double-headed eagle first appeared in Freemasonry in 1758. It was adopted by the Council of Emperors of East and West Paris, to represent the fact that they were a double jurisdiction. As the name of the council would suggest, one of the heads of the eagle was inclined to the east, and the other to the west.
It is thought that the council received permission to use the symbol from King Frederick of Prussia in an attempt to unify fractured tensions in Europe at the time. The council initially comprised 25 degrees of Freemasonry, each of which are now components of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.
A further eight degrees have been added to the Scottish Rite, making thirty-three in total. It is from this association that the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite is thought to have adopted the double-headed eagle as its emblem.