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The Angel Raphael and Freemasonry

In one of the Orders of Freemasonry, a character is introduced with these words: “He found Raphael that was an angel and said unto him, canst thou go with me? To whom the angel said, I will go with thee and I know the way well."

This is Raphael who conducts the candidate through an important part of the ceremony. The words are obviously a quotation, but you will look for them in vain in the Old and New Testaments; they come in fact from the Apocrypha, a collection of books which may be used for ‘instruction of manners’ but are not included in the canonical Holy Scriptures.

The book quoted here is TOBIT, a curious tale which might well have come from the Arabian Nights, yet contains some wonderful prayers and thanksgivings that lift it to a higher plane altogether. The man Tobit is one of the Jews removed from Galilee by Shalmaneser after the Assyrian invasion and is now settled in Nineveh with his wife Anna and his adolescent son Tobias. Many of the Jews apparently adopted the customs and religion of their captors, but Tobit remained faithful to the Law of Moses, obeying the food regulations, almsgiving, and works of mercy; he created a lot of trouble for himself by insisting on burying any dead bodies which the Assyrians had carelessly left lying around in the streets.

Unfortunately, Tobit became smitten with blindness. He put this down to sleeping under a tree when bird droppings fell into his eyes – though from the description of a ‘White film it could actually have been a severe cataract. In any case, his blindness now prevented him from making a journey to a town called Rages to collect ten talents of silver which he had loaned to his Kinsman Gabael, so he decided to send his son Tobias in his stead, and instructed him to find a suitable guide who could show him the way.

At this point Raphael enters the story, having been sent by God to reward Tobit’s piety and also to help a young lady about whom we shall hear more later. Raphael is of course ‘disguised’ as a human being, but is, in reality, “one of the Seven Holy Angels which present the prayers of the Saints” -- though we don’t learn that until the end of the book.

So they set out for Rages, Raphael, Tobias, and that young man’s dog. This is interesting as the only example in Jewish literature where a dog is treated as a pet and not just a pariah or scavenger. (‘Toby’ has been a favorite dog’s name ever since – notably in Punch & Judy shows.)

One night on the journey they camped by the river Tigris and Tobias caught a large fish for supper, on Raphael’s instructions first removing the liver, the heart, and the gall for future use.

The next stop was Ecbatana, the home of Tobit’s cousin Raguel who welcomed the travelers warmly, and at the same time realized that Tobias would make the most suitable husband for his daughter Sara. Unfortunately, Sara had already had seven husbands, each one of whom had died mysteriously on their wedding night, slain by a jealous spirit who wanted Sara for himself.

Tobias’s wedding is arranged and Raguel prepares a great feast (but being a pessimist he goes out and digs a grave in readiness!) The marriage ceremony over, Raphael advises Tobias to take the heart and liver of the fish and put them on the bedroom fire. This creates such a foul stink that the evil spirit flees “into the outmost parts of Egypt “and is never heard of again. (I shouldn’t think the humans enjoyed it that much either.)

The bridegroom still being alive next morning, Raguel thankfully and surreptitiously fills in the grave and declares that there shall be feasting for fourteen days. As that would seriously delay his journey to Rages, Tobias sends Raphael to collect the ten talents of silver, and this mission is successfully completed.

At long last Raguel is persuaded to let Tobias go home; so they set off on the return journey, Raphael with the silver, Tobias with his bride, and of course the dog. They were so late getting back to Nineveh that Tobit had almost given them up; but he came stumbling out to meet them, whereupon Tobias, again instructed by Raphael, took the gall of the fish and “strake the gall on his father’s eyes”. This caused Tobit’s eyes to smart and he rubbed them hard, and lo and behold” the whiteness pilled away” and he could see again.

Thus did Raphael fulfill his double mission to reward Tobit for his piety and to rescue Sara from the evil spirit. He now declared his true identity, bade them thank God and praise him forever, “and when they arose, they saw him no more”. And they naturally lived happily ever after.

The name “Raphael “means” God’s healer”, so in addition to being an angelic conductor, he has become a sort of Patron Saint of healing. (However, cataract sufferers are advised to handle fishes’ intestines with great caution!) There is a delightful play by James Bridie called Tobias and the Angel which was a great success years ago and is well worth a revival.

Meanwhile, we can always appreciate the guidance of an experienced conductor who “Knows the way well".

An article by the Reverend Canon Richard Tydeman Junior Grand Warden (1989) U. G. L. of England,

Taken from FREEMASONRY TODAY Issue No. 13, Summer 2000. A Masonic Journal printed in the U. K.

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