Encylcopedia of Freemasonry & its kindred Sciences
by Albert C. Mackey M. D.
The East has always been considered peculiarly sacred. This was, without exception, the case in all the Ancient Mysteries. In the Egyptianrites, especially, and those of Adonis, which were among the earliest, and from which the others derived their existence, the sun was the object of adoration, and his revolutions through the various seasons were fictitiously represented. The spot, there fore, where this luminary made his appearance at the commencement of day, and where his worshipers were wont anxiously to look for the first darting of his prolific rays, was esteemed as the figurative birthplace of their god, and honored with an appropriate degree of reverence. Even among those nations where sun-worship gave place to more enlightened doctrines, the respect for the place of sun-rising continued to exist.
The camp of Judah was placed by Moses in the East as a mark of distinction; the tabernacle in the wilderness was placed due East and West; and the practise was continued in the erection of Christian churches. Hence, too, the primitive Christians always turned toward the East in their public prayers, which custom Saint Augustine (Serm. Dom. in Monte, chapter 5 accounts for "because the East is the most honorable part of the world, being the region of light whence the glorious sun arises." Hence all Masonic Lodges, like their great prototype the Temple of Jerusalem, are built, or supposed to be built, due East and West; and as the North is esteemed a place of darkness, the East, on the contrary, is considered a place of light.
In the primitive Christian church, according to Saint Ambrose, in the ceremonies that accompanied the baptism of a catechumen, a beginner in religious instruction, "he turned towards the West, the image of darkness, to abjure the world, and towards the East, the emblem of light, to denote his alliance with Jesus Christ." And so, too, in the oldest lectures of the second century ago, the Freemason is said to travel from the West to the East, that is, from dark ness to light. In the Prestonian system, the question is asked, "What induces you to leave the West to travel to the East?" And the answer is: "In search of a Master, and from him to gain instruction." The same idea, if not precisely the same language, is preserved in the modern and existing rituals.
The East, being the place where the Master sits, is considered the most honorable part of the Lodge, and is distinguished from the rest of the room by a dais, or raised platform, which is occupied only by those who have passed the Chair. Bazot (Manuel, page 154) says: "The veneration which Masons have for the East confirms the theory that it is from the East that the Masonic cult proceeded, and that this bears a relation to the primitive religion whose first degeneration was sun-worship."