Secret Societies of All Ages: Vol 2 - Charles Heckethorn

XIV. Freemasonry in France

430. Introduction into France.—Freemasonry was introduced into France by the partisans of James and the Pretender, as a possible means of reseating the Stuart family on the English throne. Not satisfied with turning masonic rites to unforeseen and illegitimate uses, new degrees were added to those already existing, such as those of "Irish Master," "Perfect Irish Master," and "Puissant Irish Master," and by promises of the revelation of great secrets, and leading them to believe that Freemasons were the successors of the Knights Templars, the nobility of the kingdom were attracted towards the Order, and liberally supported it with their means and influence. The first lodge established in France was that of Dunkirk (1721), under the title of "Friendship and Fraternity." The second, whose name has not been handed down, was founded in Paris in 1725 by Lord Derwentwater. Other followers of the Pretender established other lodges, of all which Lord Derwentwater was the grand master, until that nobleman lost his life for his devotion to the cause of the Stuarts in 1746.

431. Chevalier Ramsay.—The Chevalier Ramsay, also a devoted adherent of the house of Stuart, endeavoured more effectually to carry out the views of his predecessors, and in 1730 attempted in London to lay the basis of a masonic reform, according to which the masonic legend referred to the violent death of Charles I., while Cromwell and his partisans represented the assassins to be condemned in the lodge. He therefore proposed to the Grand Lodge of England to substitute in the place of the first three degrees those of Scotch Mason, Novice, and Knight of the Temple, which he pretended to be the only true and ancient ones, having their administrative centre in the Lodge of St. Andrew at Edinburgh. But the Grand Lodge at once rejected his views, whose objects it perceived. Ramsay went to Paris, where he met with great success. His system gave rise to those higher degrees which have since then been known by the name of the Ancient Scotch rite. Many of these innovations made up for their want of consistency with masonic traditions by splendour of external decorations and gorgeousness of ceremonies. But the hautes grades of the French, and the philosophic degrees of the Ancient Scotch rite, are not innovations, but illustrations of pure symbolic Masonry.

432. Philosophical Rites.—Philosophy indeed began to insinuate itself into Masonry, simplifying the rites and purifying its doctrines. Among the philosophic degrees then introduced, that of the "Knights of the Sun" is noteworthy. Its declared scope was to advocate natural, in opposition to revealed, religion. There is but one light in the lodge, which shines from behind a globe of water, to represent the sun. It has some resemblance to the "Sublime Knight Elected." But, on the other hand, by these innovations systems multiplied, and the Order served as a pretext and defence of institutions having no connection with Masonry. Cabala, magic, conjuration, divination, alchemy, and demonology were taught in the lodges. These abuses led to the establishment of an administrative centre at Arras in 1747. Another was founded at Marseilles in 1751. Three years afterwards the Chevalier de Bonneville founded in Paris a chapter of the high degrees, with the title, afterwards become famous, of the "Chapter of Clermont," and lodged it in a sumptuous palace built by him in a suburb of Paris. The system adopted was to some extent that of Ramsay. Another chapter, in opposition to his, was founded in 1762, with the title of "Council of the Knights of the East." In 1766, the Baron Tschudy founded the Order of the "Blazing Star," in which ideas derived from the Temple and the Jesuits were strangely intermingled.

433. The Duke de Chartres.—Freemasonry in France was not without influence on the Revolution. The Duke de Chartres having been elected grand master, all the lodges were united under the Grand Orient; hence the immense influence he afterwards wielded. The mode of his initiation is thus related: Before becoming grand master he was received into the degree of Knight of Kadosh. Five brethren introduced him into a hall, representing a grotto strewn with human bones, and lighted up with sepulchral lamps. In one of the angles was a lay figure covered with royal insignia. The introducers bade him lie down on the ground like one dead, naming the degrees through which he had already passed, and repeating the former oaths. Afterwards, they extolled the degree into which he was about to be received. Having bidden him to rise, he was made to ascend a high ladder, and to throw himself from the top. Having then armed him with a dagger, they commanded him to strike the crowned figure, and a liquid resembling blood spurted from the wound over his hands and clothes. He was then told to cut off the head of the figure. Finally, he was informed that the bones with which the cave was strewn came from the body of James Molay, Grand Master of the Order of the Temple, and that the man whom he had stabbed was Philip the Fair, King of France. The Grand Orient was established in a mansion formerly belonging to the Jesuits in Paris, and became a revolutionary centre. The share the Grand Orient, the tool of the Duke de Chartres, took in the events of the French Revolution is matter of public history.