Secret Societies of All Ages: Vol 2 - Charles Heckethorn

XXVII. Futility of Modern Freemasonry

495. Vain Pretensions of Modern Freemasonry.—After this necessarily compressed account of Freemasonry, past and present, the question naturally suggests itself—What is its present use? Are its pretensions not groundless? Is it not an institution which has outlived the object of its foundation? Is not its present existence a delusion and an anachronism? Since all that is said and done in the lodges has for many years been in print, is the holding out of the communication of secrets not a delusion, and the imposition of childish oaths not a farce? The answers to all these questions must be unfavourable to Freemasonry. When Masonry was purely operative, it had its uses; when it became speculative, it was more useful still in its earlier stages, at least on the Continent, and indirectly in this country also; for either by itself, or in conjunction with other societies, such as the Illuminati, it opposed the political despotism, then prevalent all over Europe, and formed an anti- Inquisition to clerical obscurantism and oppression, wherefore it was persecuted by Protestant and Roman Catholic rulers alike. The rapid progress achieved in modern times by humanity and toleration, is undoubtedly due to the tendency which speculative Masonry took in the last, and to its political activity in all countries, except England, in this century. Founded in ages when the possession of religious and scientific knowledge was the privilege of the few, it preserved that knowledge then indeed a small rivulet only from being choked up by the weeds of indifference and superstition; but now that that small rivulet has been overtaken by, and swallowed up in, the boundless, ever-advancing ocean of modern science, which may boldly proclaim its discoveries t6 the world, a society that professes to keep knowledge for the few is but a retrograde institution. Philo, about 1780, properly defined English Masonry, as it then was, and is to-day: " The lodges indiscriminately receive members, go through ceremonies, play at mysteries without understanding them, eat, drink, and digest well, and now and then bestow alms are the formal English lodges."

496. Vanity of Masonic Ceremonial.—There are thousands of excellent men who have never seen the inside of a lodge, and yet are genuine Freemasons, i.e. liberal-minded and enlightened men, devoted to the study of Nature and the progress of mankind, moral and intellectual; men devoid of all political and religious prejudices, true cosmopolitans. And there are thousands who have passed through every masonic degree, and yet are not Masons; men who take appearances for realities, the means for the end, the ceremonies of the lodge for Freemasonry. But the lodge, with all its symbols, is only the form of the masonic thought. In the present age, however, this form, which was very suitable, nay, necessary, for the time when it was instituted, becomes an anachronism. The affectation of possessing a secret is a childish and mischievous weakness. The objects modern Masons profess to pursue are brotherly love, relief, and truth; surely the pursuit of these objects cannot need any secret rites, traditions, and ceremonies. In spite of the great parade made in masonic publications about the science and learning peculiar to the craft, what discovery of new scientific facts or principles can Masons claim for the Order? Nay, are well-known and long-established truths familiar to them, and made the objects of study in the lodges? Nothing of the kind. That noble character, the Emperor-King Frederick III., who had early in life been initiated, resigned the Grand-Mastership when, after patient and diligent inquiry, for which his exalted position gave him exceptional facilities, he, in spite of a secret inclination to the contrary, became satisfied of the unsoundness and vanity of masonic pretensions.

497. Masonry diffuses no Knowledge.—We get neither science nor learning from a Mason, as a Mason. The Order, in fact, abjures religious and political discussion in this country, and yet it pretends that to it mankind is indebted for its progress, and that, were it abolished, mental darkness would again overshadow the world. But how is this progress to be effected, if the chronic diseases in the existing religions and political systems of the world are not to be meddled with? As well might an association for the advancement of learning abjure inquiry into chemical and mechanical problems, and then boast of the benefits it conferred on science! It is Hamlet with the part of Hamlet omitted. If then Masonry wishes to live on, aud be something more than a society of Odd Fellows or Druids, more lodges must be formed by educated men—and fewer by the mere publicans and other tradesmen that now found lodges to create a market for their goods—who might do some good by teaching moral and natural philosophy from a deeper ground than the scholastic and grossly material basis on which all teaching at present is founded, and by rescuing science from the degraded position of handmaiden to mere physical comfort, into which modern materialism has forced it.

498. Decay of Freemasonry.—The more I study Freemasonry, the more I am repelled by its pretences. The facility and frequency with which worthless characters are received into the Order; the manner in which all its statutes are disregarded; the dislike with which every brother who insists on reform is looked upon by the rest; the difficulty of expelling obnoxious members; the introduction of many spurious rites, and the deceptiveness of the rites themselves, designed to excite curiosity without ever satisfying it; the puerility of the symbolism; the paltriness of the secret when revealed to the candidate, and his ill-concealed disgust when at last he gets behind the scenes and sees through the rotten canvas that forms so beautiful a landscape in front all these too plainly show that the lodge has banished Freemasonry. And like monasticism or chivalry, it is no longer wanted. Having no political influence, and no political aspirations, or, when it has such aspirations revealing them by insane excesses, such as the citation before masonic tribunals of Napoleon III., the Emperor of Germany, the Crown Prince, the Pope, and Marshal Prim, by French, Italian, and Spanish Masons respectively,and after afarcical sham trial, condemning the accused so cited to which summons of course they paid no attention to death, or in plain English, to assassination, a crime really perpetrated on the person of Marshal Prim; being no longer even a secret society for a society sanctioned by the State, as Freemasonry is, cannot be called a secret society; having no industrial or intellectual rallying point it must eventually die from sheer inanition.

It may prolong its existence by getting rid of all the rites and ceremonies which are neither simple nor graud, nor founded on any authority or symbolic meaning, and by renouncing the silly pretence of secrets, 1 and undertaking to teach what I have sketched in various portions of this work, concerning the origin and meaning of Masonry and its symbols, illustrating its teaching by the ornaments and practice of the lodges. This seems to be the only ground on which Freemasonry could claim to have its lease of existence, as Freemasonry, renewed, for not even the Masonic marriages, introduced by French lodges, will perpetuate its existence. I have before me accounts of two such marriages, performed without the usual ecclesiastic or civil ceremonies, the one in the lodge La France Maconnique in Paris in 1887, and the other in a lodge at Toulouse, in the same year, as also of two others, celebrated in Paris, in 1882, when M. Elysee Reclus, a Freemason, and one of the five well-known Anarchist brothers, gave away two of his daughters to two brothers, at a dinner held in a private house, simply declaring the two couples by that mere declaration to be married. But the ladies do not approve of these hole-and-corner espousals.

499. Masonic Opinions of Masonry.—Masons have been very indignant with me for making these statements; but honest members of the craft know, and occasionally admit, that I am right. In 1798 a Mason wrote in the Monthly Magazine,

"The landlord (who is always a brother) promotes harmony, as it is called, by providing choice suppers and good liquors, the effects of which are late hours and inebriety; and thus are made up two-thirds of modern lodges." And again: "Hogarth was a member of the fraternity, and actually served the office of Grand Steward in 1735, . . . yet in his picture of 'Night,' one of the most conspicuous figures is that of a master of a lodge led home drunk by the tyler."

The too facile admission of worthless members is regretted by the same writer, as it is by modern Masons (e.g. Freemason, 26th June 1875). Brother John Yarker in his "Notes on the Scientific and Religious Mysteries of Antiquity" (Hogg, 1872), a zealous Mason, says:

"As the masonic fraternity is now governed, the craft is fast becoming the paradise of the bon vivant, of the 'charitable' hypocrite, who . . . decorates his breast with the 'charity jewel'; . . . the manufacturer of paltry masonic tinsel; the rascally merchant who swindles in hundreds and even thousands, by appealing to the tender consciences of those few who do regard their O.B.'s, and the Masonic Emperors' and other charlatans, who make power or money out of the aristocratic pretensions which they have tacked on to our institution, ad captandum vulgus." This I think is enough to show that my censures are well founded.

500. Masonic Literature.—It is almost absurd to talk of masonic literature; it scarcely exists. Except the works written by Oliver, Mackey, Findel, and Ragon, there is scarcely anything worth reading about Freemasonry, of which a Freemason is the author. The countless lectures by brethren, with a few exceptions, consist of mere truisms and platitudes. Its periodical literature—in this country at all events—is essentially of the Grub Street kind, consisting of mere trade-circulars, supported by puffing masonic tradesmen and vain officials, who like to have their working in the lodge trumpeted forth in a fashion which occasionally trenches on imbecility, as could readily be shown by extracts from newspaper reports. All attempts permanently to establish masonic periodicals of a higher order have hitherto failed from want of encouragement. The fact is, men of education take very little interest in Masonry, for it has nothing to offer them in an intellectual point of view; because even Masons who have attained to every ne plus ultra of the institution, know little of its origin and meaning.

500a. The Quatuor Coronati Lodge.—The literary shortcomings of Masonry I have, in the interests of truth, and as an impartial historian been compelled to point out in the previous section, have been recognised by intelligent Masons, and such recognition has, in 1884, led to the foundation of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge. Members must be possessed of literary or artistic qualifications; to belong to it, therefore, is in itself a distinction, and, as may be supposed, the lodge is composed chiefly of well-known masonic historians and antiquaries, and thus occupies a position totally different from all other masonic lodges. Its objects are the promotion of masonic knowledge, by papers read and discussions thereon in the lodge; by the publication of its transactions, and the reprinting of scarce and valuable works on Freemasonry, such as MSS., e.g. "The Masonic Poem" (circa 1390), the earliest MS. relating to Freemasonry; Matthew Cooke's Harleian and Lansdowne MSS.; or printed works, as e.y., "Anderson's Constitutions" of 1738, or Reproductions of Masonic Certificates. All these have been issued by this lodge in volumes, entitled "Ars Quatuor Coronatorum," well printed, and expensively illustrated. Connected with the lodge is a "Correspondence Circle," whose members reside in all parts of the globe, and form a literary society of Masons, aiming at the progress of the craft. But by progress can only be meant extension of Masonry; the "Transactions" and "Reprints" can add nothing to the knowledge the best-informed members already possess; but the "Reprints," by their aesthetic sumptuousness and the learned comments accompanying them, invest Masonry with a dignity which may attract to it more of the intelligence of mankind than it has hitherto done, and the labours of Quatuor Coronatorum therefore deserve the hearty support of the craft.