- The notion of the Lost Word is a Masonic one. It is said to signify the loss of our comprehension, or concept, of God or Nature. If recovered the initiate comprehends the Cosmos and so gains power over it, so the usual story goes. It is perhaps better seen as an understanding that brings a connection with, or an intimate knowledge.
The Operative Masons seemed to believe knowing a certain sacred word gave them power over the whole universe, much as knowing the name of a spirit gave the conjuror power over it. In Symbolic Masonry this became the preserve of the Master Mason (though should not be confused with the Passwords of the 3rd and 4th degrees). We can surmise from this that the Word symbolised the Cosmos as a whole, or was a plan of it, that is the Logos (as understood in some schools of Greek Philosophy and Mystical Christianity). This was akin to the blueprint of a great building in an architectural project. The perfect building being a microcosm of the Cosmos, the aim of every esoteric architect. It took the form of a Word not only due to reference to the Logos, but also in reference to Masonic passwords, the keys to Masonic involvement. To know the right Word for a Mason was to be properly connected. The more modern interpretation has the Word as a Mantra, which vibrates with power.
In The Beginning Was The Word
The original Masonic Word as given in the Royal Arch degree (4') was Jahbulon, usually explained as a symbol of the triune nature of reality. However what the triad was is not clear. The basic religious notion was of course the Trinity; the Father, Son and Holy Ghost (Jah or God, Baal or Lord, On or Power). Note these are Hebrew words, Baal is the Jewish term for 'lord' or 'master' in the mundane sense (as well as for husband!), the form however is Gnostic. More rationally the triad was said by others to represent the three regions of the Cosmos; Hades, Earth and Heaven, or Microcosmically; Body, Mind/Soul and Spirit (or Gnostically Hyle, Psyche, Pneuma). Or even Alchemically; Salt, Mercury and Sulphur. A more dynamic, cyclic and less fixed association was also attributed and would become the most popular explanation; the pagan cycle of Birth, Life and Death (sometimes with Rebirth or Judgement added as a forth item). This ties in not only with the three Blue Degrees of Craft Masonry, but also with the Hindu trinity of Creation, Preservation and Destruction, popular by Victorian times. As we shall see other names were later substituted for Jahbulon, but nearly all were tripartite (occassionally quartenary) and all reflected the same meaning. The most popular being the Gnostic formula IAO. In Occult circles, influenced by Pop Egyptianism, this would be interpreted as a shorthand of Egyptian Godnames; Isis, goddess of birth, Apep (Baal), god of death and Osiris (On), god of the afterlife or rebirth. Sometimes an M for Maat was added, IAOM, signifying post mortem judgement. It was IAO that was taken up by Aleister Crowley as one of his major formulas.
The important point here is that there was little agreement on the meaning or even what the Word really was. For this reason the original idea was that the Word was lost till the end of time and a substitute word, Ma Ha Bone, given to the Master Mason in its place (along with the Master Mason's password, Tubalcain). The Word was sought but never obtained, much like the Philosophers Stone of Alchemy, with which it has direct parallels. Later exiled Jacobite Masons in need of hard cash invented an extra 4th degree, the Royal Arch of Enoch, consisting of an initiatory underworld rite of 7 veils, at the end of which the 'real' Masons Word was given. This was shear hubris, but can best be taken as an approximation, a kind of scientific model rather than a blueprint, as the true Word was supposed to be.
Pick Your Word
There remained several other Lost Words, the Rosicrucians favoured INRI, later interpreted in terms of the astrological significance of Hebrew letters, I= Virgo, N= Scorpio, R= Sun. This ungainly symbolism supposedly spelling out Birth, Death, Afterlife and Rebirth. Another favourite is AZOTh, comprising of the first and last letters of the English, Greek and Hebrew alphabets, thus signiying the cycles of Life and Death, similarly its components AO, AZ and ATh are also used, sometimes with a midterm for Life introduced, sometimes an endterm for Rebirth or Judgement is added, sometimes all of these. All possibilities are valid as long as the basic formulas are observed, according to progresive Masons.
The Key To The Egregore
A more pragmatic explanation of the Word is that its myth is a mere fable and its real function is as a Word of Power shared by all members of a group, and so forming the link to the groups egregore. In this respect the glyph represents not the Cosmos but the Cosmology of the group, itself a Microcosm. Though with many groups losing such a Word may be a blessing.