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The shoulder and its symbolism

Every gesture has a meaning and even if we are not aware of it, this meaning is not lost.

A recent anecdote from a friend of mine gives me the opportunity to talk about this subject; Nicole suffers from tendinitis of the right shoulder and goes to see an acupuncturist. After the usual tests, the acupuncturist asked her a seemingly strange question: "Have you not recently been upset in your faith? "It turns out that Nicole had a very bad experience with the death of her younger sister, killed accidentally in a traffic accident caused by a drunk driver! This death, which she considers unjust, really revolted her and she still blames God, whom she considers, in a certain way, responsible! What's that got to do with the shoulder, I ask myself? And here is the fruit of my research that I propose to share with you!



Shoulders in popular thought


Shoulders are attributed with the capacity to bear the burdens of life, the joys, the sorrows, the responsibilities, the insecurities: cf. the expressions "To have broad shoulders", "To have one's head on one's shoulders".


To suffer shoulders in body language is to suffer from not being able to "bear", not being "up to the task" and also to have a conflictual relationship with authority in the broadest sense!


The shoulder is also a support "because it can support the head of a friend or relative when he cries. Everyone needs a shoulder to cry on at some point in their life.


The left shoulder is associated with evil; in the phrase "throw salt over your shoulder!


" (still left shoulder), it's a superstition designed to ward off a spell and bring good luck.


In many traditions, the dead are honoured by carrying their coffin on their shoulders!



Shoulder in the Bible


In Hebrew "shoulder" corresponds to Shekem,( che-kem, chekètn) and Kateph, which is found in many verses. Yves Petrakian explains the different meanings of the words well:


The first term designates in the first sense, either a shoulder of man: "Saul was higher than all the people from the shoulder and above" (trans. litt, from 1Sa 9 2 10:23), or a shoulder of an animal (Ge 49:15); almost always it carries a burden (Ge 21:14,Ex 12:34,Jos 4:5 etc.). Figuratively speaking, the burden represents either an unwelcome weight (Isa 10:27 14:25,Ps 81:7, cf. Mt 23:4), or a light burden, such as a false accusation (Job 31:36), or a dignity: empire instead of robbery (Isa 9:3,5), or the direction of the palace (Isa 22:22, see Key), or the beneficial yoke of wisdom (Sir 6:25 ff.), or the common service of Jehovah "from one shoulder" (trans. litt. of Sop 3:9). Ge 48:22 makes a play on words: the "portion" in question (Hebrew chekèm) is the very city of Shechem (Ge 33:19 etc.) which owes its name, chekèm = shoulder, to the shape of its eminence.


The second word also designates, in the first sense, either the shoulders of men, such as those of the soldiers of Nebuchadnezzar bruised by their armor and fatigue (Eze 29:18), or the shoulders of animals (Eze 34:21); they carry sacred objects (No. 7:9), ark (1Chr 15:15), idols (Isa 46:7, Letter of Jeremiah 4:26), luggage (Eze 12:1), etc. (Eze 12:1): 6 ff.), city gates (Jug 16:3); as the badge of his office was carried on his shoulder, so the high priest's habit (ephod) had on each shoulder a precious stone with the names of six tribes on the right and the other six on the left (Ex 28:9-12), which represented the people of Israel before God.


Figuratively, the bowed shoulder symbolizes servitude (Bar 2:21; Apocr.: loin), the rebellious shoulder refuses the service of God (Ne 9:29, Zechariah 7:11); but the evangelist in exile announces the tenderness of the Lord who will carry his children on his shoulders (Isa 49:22), as the shepherd of the Gospel carries his sheep (Lu 15:5). Like the first word, the second also has a topographical use, but as a common name; see the image of Jerusalem: "The Most High will dwell between the shoulders (=hills) of Benjamin" (De 33:12), and the translations: coast (#34:11), mountain (Jos 15:8 etc.), boundary (Eze 25:9), i.e., flank exposed to invasion, (cf. Isa 11:4) and simply side (1Ro 7:39, etc.).


Overall one could say that the symbolism of the shoulder in the Bible refers to action and the power to do or not to do!


Let us recall that Annick de Souzenelle, well known for her study on the symbolism of the human body, uses, to name the shoulders, the expression "Gateway to the Gods".


Marie de Hennezel evokes an Amerindian formula which consists in saying that every human advances in life with, on the left shoulder, a bird that watches. Every morning, the bird slips a word to the man: "Today, do not forget: you will die. "Thus, with this morning advice, man can get down to his activities, his thoughts of the day, his feelings without making a big deal of it. It is not an invitation to unhappiness, but to the happiness that comes from serenity.



The shoulder in Freemasonry


When we study the different periods of Masonic gestures in the rituals of the 18th century French, we can see that certain parts of the body are very much in demand; this is of course the case of the hand; the shoulder is also very much concerned and it is not uninteresting to make a link with other ritual practices.


The various ritualistic times involving the shoulder in blue lodge, in France in the eighteenth century are, for the most part:


In the first degree


The naked left shoulder of the candidate in the tests (in the initiation it is many times referred to the shoulder)

  • The flaming sword on the shoulders at the consecration of the new insider

  • The order sign

  • The triple hit on the left shoulder during the fraternal embrace

  • The "Roman" salute

  • Taking the oath

In the second degree

  • The order sign

In the third degree

  • The order sign

  • The sign of horror

  • The appeal to the widow's children

  • The position of the shoulder during the 5 points of control

In Freemasonry, in the ancient rituals practiced in France in the 18th century, the shoulder is a transitional symbolic element of the relationship with God who is called the Great Architect of the Universe or the relationship that is invoked towards him during gestures made in moments of the rite, which brings a particular solemnity. Inspired by the biblical sense, the symbolism of the shoulder is related to power or, to be more exact, to the expression of the intention of "power".


Today, the same gestures involving the shoulder have become simple gestures of belonging that we perform mechanically!


In conclusion, let us return to this anecdote which enlightens us on the link between bodily suffering and symbolism; Nicole through her shoulder tendonitis expresses a real mental suffering in connection with an unaccepted misunderstanding which has found its place of expression in the part of the body culturally linked to its existential problematic. In order to really heal, perhaps she will have to do a work of "acceptance".





Other articles on this subject published on other sites


- Ni nu, ni vêtu

- Symbolique de l'épaule

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Idéal Maçonnique

Quelques sœurs et frères de différentes obédiences et n'ayant comme unique motivation que celle de transmettre notre amour de la Franc-Maçonnerie dans une optique de pragmatisme et de modernité. Notre animateur, c'est Mateo Simoita, un franc-maçon du GODF qui a plus de 40 ans d'ancienneté maçonnique. C'est aussi notre signature commune.

Mateo Simoita
Responsable du site idealmaconnique.com

Médecin retraité ; initié en 1979 au Grand Orient de France.

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