Secret Societies of All Ages: Vol 2 - Charles Heckethorn

XX. Freemasonry in Italy

454. Whimsical Masonic Societies.—We have but few notices of the early state of Freemasonry in Italy. We are told that in 1512 there was founded at Florence a society under the name of "The Trowel," composed of learned and literary men, who indulged in all kinds of whimsical freaks, and who may have served as prototypes to the Order of "The Monks of the Screw," established towards the end of the last century in Ireland. Thus at one time they would meet in the lodge, dressed as masons and labourers, and begin to erect an edifice with trays full of macaroni and cheese, using spices and bonbons for mortar, and rolls and cakes for stones, and building up the whole with all kinds of comestibles. And thus they went on until a pretended rain put an end to their labours. At another time it was Ceres, who, in search of Proserpine, invited the Brethren of the Trowel to accompany her to the infernal regions. They followed her through the mouth of a serpent into a dark room, and on Pluto inviting them to the feast, lights appeared, and the table was seen to be covered with black, whilst the dishes on it were foul and obscene animals, and bones of dead men, served by devils carrying shovels. Finally all this vanished, and a choice banquet followed. This Society of the Trowel was in existence in 1737. The clergy endeavoured to suppress it, and would no doubt have succeeded, but for the accession of Francis, Duke of Tuscany, who had been initiated in Holland, and who set free all the Freemasons that had been incarcerated, and protected the Order. But the remembrance of that persecution is preserved in the rituals, and in the degree of "Magus," the costume is that of the Holy Office, as other degrees commemorate the inquisitors of Portugal and Spain.

455. Illuminati in Italy.—The sect of the Illuminati, of whom Count Filippo Strozzi was a warm partisan, soon after spread through Italy, as well as another Order, affiliated with the Illuminati, mystical and alchymistical, and in opposition to the Rosicrucians, called the "Initiated Brethren of Asia," which had been founded at Vienna. It only accepted candidates who had passed through the first three degrees of the York rite. Like Egyptian Masonry, it worshipped the Tetragrammaton, and combined the deepest and most philosophical ideas with the most curious superstitions.

456. Freemasonry at Naples.—In the kingdom of Naples the Masons amounted to many thousands. An edict of Charles III. (1751), and another of Ferdinand IV. (1759), closed the lodges, but in a short time the edicts became a dead letter, and in vain did the minister, Tanucci, hostile to the institution, seek to revive them. The incident of a neophyte dying a few days after his initiation gave a pretext for fresh persecution. The Masons, assembled at a banquet, were arrested; and in vain did Levy, a lawyer, undertake their defence. He was expelled the kingdom; his book in favour of the Order was publicly burnt by the executioner. But Queen Caroline, having dismissed Tanucci, again sanctioned masonic meetings, for which she received the thanks of the Grand Orient of France. It would seem, however, that in a very few years Freemasonry again had to hide its head, for in 1767 we hear of it as a "secret" society, whose existence has just been discovered. The document which records this discovery puts the number of Freemasons at 64,000, which probably is an exaggeration; still, among so excitable a population as that of Southern Italy, secret societies at all times found plenty of proselytes.

457. Details of Document.—The document referred to says: At last the great mine of the Freemasons of Naples is discovered, of whom the name, but not the secret, was known. Two circumstances are alleged by which the discovery was brought about: a dying man revealed all to his confessor, that he should inform the king thereof; a knight, who had been kept in great state by the society, having had his pension withheld, betrayed the Grand Master of the Order to the king. This Grand Master was the Duke of San Severe. The king secretly sent a confidential officer with three dragoons to the duke's mansion, with orders to seize him before he had time to speak to any one, and bring him to the palace. The order was carried out; but a few minutes after a fire broke out in the duke's mansion, destroying his library, the real object being, as is supposed, to burn all writings having reference to Freemasonry. The fire was extinguished, and the house guarded by troops. The duke having been brought before the king, openly declared the objects, systems, seals, government, and possessions of the Order. He was sent back to his palace, and there guarded by troops, lest he should be killed by his former colleagues.

Freemasons have also been discovered at Florence, and the Pope and the Emperor have sent thither twenty-four theologians to put a stop to the disorder. The king acts with the greatest mercy towards all implicated, to avoid the great dangers that might ensue from a contrary course. He has also appointed four persons of great standing to use the best means to destroy so abominable a sect; and has given notice to all the other sovereigns of Europe of his discovery, and the abominable maxims of the sect, calling upon them to assist in its suppression, which it will be folly in them to refuse to do. For the Order does not count its members by thousands, but by millions, especially among Jews and Protestants. Their frightful maxims are only known to the members of the fifth, sixth, and seventh lodges, while those of the first three know nothing, and those of the fourth act without knowing, what they do. They derive their origin from England, and the founder of the sect was that infamous Cromwell, first bishop, and then lover of Anne Boleyn, and then beheaded for his crimes, called in his day "the scourge of rulers." He left the Order an annual income of £10,000 sterling.

It is divided into seven lodges: the members of the seventh are called Assessors; of the sixth, Grand Masters; of the fifth, Architects; of the fourth, Executors (here the secret ends); of the third Ruricori (!); of the second and first, Novices and Proselytes. Their infamous idea is based on the allegory of the temple of Solomon, considered in its first splendour, and then overthrown by the tyranny of the Assyrians, and finally restored—thereby to signify the liberty of man after the creation of the world, the tyranny of the priesthood, kings, and laws, and the reestablishment of that liberty. Then follow twelve maxims in which these opinions and aims are more fully expounded, from which it appears that they were not very different from those of all other republican and advanced politicians.

458. Freemasonry at Venice.—The Freemasons were at first tolerated at Venice, but in 1686 the government suddenly took the alarm, and ordered the closing of all lodges, and banished the members; but the decree was very leniently executed, and a lodge of nobles having refused to obey, the magistrates entered it at a time when they knew no one to be there. The furniture, ornaments, and jewels were carried out and publicly burnt or dispersed, but none of the brethren were in any way molested. A lodge was re-established afterwards, which was discovered in 1785, when all its contents were again burnt or otherwise destroyed.

From the ritual, which was found among the other effects, it appears that the candidate for initiation was led, his eyes being bandaged, from street to street, or canal to canal, so as to prevent his tracing the locality, to the Rio Marino, where he was first conducted into a room hung with black, and illumined by a single light; there he was clothed in a long garment like a winding sheet, but black; he put on a cap something like a turban, and his hair was drawn over his face, and in this elegant figure he was placed before a looking-glass, covered with a black curtain, under which were written the words, "If thou hast true courage, and an honest desire to enter into the Order, draw aside the curtain, and learn to know thyself." He might then remove the bandage and look at himself. He was then again blind-folded, and placed in the middle of the room, while thirty or forty members entered and began to fight with swords. This was to try the candidate's courage, who was himself slightly wounded. The bandage was once more removed, and the wound dressed. Then it was replaced, and the candidate taken to a second apartment, hung with black and white, and having in the middle a bed covered with a black cloth, on the centre of which was a white cross, whilst on either side was represented a white skeleton. The candidate was laid on the bed, the bandage being removed, and he was there left with two tapers, the one white, the other yellow. After having been left there for some time, the brethren entered in a boisterous manner, beating discordant drums. The candidate was to show no sign of trepidation amidst all these elaborate ceremonies; and then the members embraced him as a brother, and gave him the name by which he was henceforth to be known in the society.

459. Abatement under Napoleon.—During the reign of Napoleon I., numerous lodges were founded throughout Italy; and it cannot be denied by the greatest friends of the Order, that during that period Freemasonry cut a most pitiful figure. For a society that always boasted of its independence of, and superiority to, all other earthly governments, to forward addresses such as the following to Napoleon, seems something like self-abasement and self-stultification:— "Napoleon thy philosophy guarantees the toleration of our natural and divine religion. We render thee honour worthy of thee for it, and thou shalt find in us nothing but faithful subjects, ever devoted to thy august person!"

460. The Freemasonry of the Present in Italy.—Very little need, or can, be said as regards the active proceedings of Italian masonic lodges of the present day, though they have been reconstituted and united under one or two heads. But their programme deserves attention, as pointing out those reforms, needed not only in Italy, but everywhere where Freemasonry exists. The declared object, then, of Italian Freemasonry is, the highest development of universal philanthropy; the independence and unity of single nations, and fraternity among each other; the toleration of every religion, and absolute equality of worship; the moral and material progress of the masses. It moreover declares itself independent of every government, affirming that Italian Freemasonry will not recognise any other sovereign power on earth but right reason and universal conscience. It further declares—and this deserves particular attention—that Freemasonry is not to consist in a mysterious symbolism, vain ceremonies, or indefinite aspirations, which cover the Order with ridicule. Again, Masonry being universal, essentially human, it does not occupy itself with forms of government, nor with transitory questions, but with such as are permanent and general.

In social reforms, abstract theories, founded on mystical aspirations, are to be avoided. The duty of labour being the most essential in civil society, Freemasonry is opposed to idleness. Religious questions are beyond the pale of Freemasonry. Human conscience is in itself inviolable; it has no concern with any positive religion, but represents religion itself in its essence. Devoted to the principle of fraternity, it preaches universal toleration; comprehends in its ritual many of the symbols of various religions, as in its syncretism it chooses the purest truths. Its creed consists in the worship of the Divine, whose highest conception, withdrawn from every priestly speculation, is that of the Great Architect of the Universe; and in faith in humanity, the sole interpreter of the Divine in the world. As to extrinsic modes of worship, Freemasonry neither imposes nor recommends any, leaving to every one his free choice, until the day, perhaps not far distant, when all men will be capable of worshipping the Infinite in spirit and in truth, without intermediaries and outward forms. And whilst man in his secret relations to the Infinite fecundates the religious thought, he in his relations to the Universe fecundates the scientific thought. Science is truth, and the most ancient cultus of Freemasonry.

In determining the relations of the individual to his equals, Freemasonry does not restrict itself to recommending to do unto others what we wish others would do unto us; but inculcates to do good, oppose evil, and not to submit to injustice in whatsoever form it presents itself. Freemasonry looks forward to the day when the iron plates of the Monitor and the Merrimac will be beaten into steam-ploughs; when man, redeemed by liberty and science, shall enjoy the pure pleasures of intelligence; when peace, fertilised by the wealth and strength now devoted to war, shall bring forth the most beautiful fruit of the tree of life.

461. Reform needed.—Greatly, therefore, is the academic puerility of rites to be regretted, which drags back into the past an institution that ought to launch forward into the future. It is self-evident that Freemasonry in this state cannot last, that a reform is necessary; and as De Castro, from whom the above is taken, thinks that it would be an honour to Italy to be the leader in such a reform, it would be an honour to any country that initiated it. Masonry ought not to be an ambulance, but a vanguard. It is embarrassed by its excessive baggage, its superfluous symbols. Guarding secrets universally known, it cannot entertain secrets of greater account. Believing itself to be the sole depositary of widely-spread truths, it deprives itself and the world of other truths. In this perplexity and alternative of committing suicide or being born anew, what will Masonry decide on?