Secret Societies of All Ages: Vol 2 - Charles Heckethorn

II. Origin and Traditions

386. The First Masons.—All nations, all states, all corporations, to increase their power and deduce from above their raison d'etre, attribute to themselves a very ancient origin. This wish must be all the stronger in a society altogether ideal and moral, living the life of principles, which needs rather to seem to be, not coeval with, but anterior and superior to all others. Hence the claim set up by Freemasonry of being, not contemporary with the creation of man, but with that of the world; because light was before man, and prepared for him a suitable habitation, and light is the scope and symbol of Freemasonry. Lest non-Masonic readers should think we are joking as regards Masonic assertions concerning the antiquity of the craft, we will quote from two Masonic writers, one more than a century old, and one quite of recent date: Edward Spratt, in his "Book of Constitutions for the Use of Lodges in Ireland," 1751, makes Adam the first Mason, who "even after his expulsion from paradise retained great knowledge, especially in geometry." Dr. J.A. Weisse, in "The Obelisk and Freemasonry," published in 1880, says: "Freemasonry commenced from the Creation, and was established by the family of Seth. The Masonic apron originated from the covering or apron of fig-leaves, adopted by Adam and Eve after the Fall." Need I quote more?

Now in the Introduction (6, 7) I have stated that there was from the very first appearance of man on the earth a highly favoured and civilised race, possessing a full knowledge of the laws and properties of nature, and which knowledge was embodied in mystical figures and schemes, such as were deemed appropriate emblems for its preservation and propagation. These figures and schemes are preserved in Masonry, but not in the pseudo-Masonry of the majority of craft members. The truest Masons at the present day are found without the lodge. I shall endeavour in these pages as much as possible to teach Masons the real truths hidden under the symbols and enigmatical forms, which, without a key, appear but as absurd and debasing rites and ceremonies. The aim of all the secret societies of which accounts have been as yet or will be given in this work, except of those which were purely political or anti-social, was to preserve such knowledge as still survived, or to recover what had been lost. And since Freemasonry is, so to speak, the resume of the teachings of all those societies, dogmas in accordance with one or more of those taught in the ancient mysteries and other associations are to be found in Masonry; hence also it is impossible to attribute its origin to one or other specific society preceding it. Freemasonry is—or rather ought to be—the compendium of all primitive and accumulated human knowledge.

387. Periods of Freemasonry.—Masonic writers generally divide the history of the Order into two periods, the first comprising the time from its assumed foundation to the beginning of the last century, during which the Order admitted only masons, i.e. operative masons and artificers in some way connected with architecture. The second or present period, they denominate the period of Speculative Masonry, when the Order no longer chooses its members only amongst men engaged in the raising of material structures, but receives into its ranks all who are willing to assist in building a spiritual temple, the temple of universal harmony and knowledge. Yet persons not working masons had ere then been admitted, for the records of a lodge at Warrington, as old as 1648, note the admission of Colonel Main Waring and the great antiquary Ashmole. Charles I., Charles II., and James II. also were initiated. But from what has been said above, it follows that true Masonry always was speculative, and that to deduce its origin from the ancient Dionysiac or any other kindred college is only partly correct. The name "masonic" was adopted by the society on its reconstruction in the last century, because the brotherhood of builders who erected the magnificent cathedrals and other buildings that arose during the Middle Ages had lodges, degrees, landmarks, secret signs, and passwords, such as the builders of the temple of Solomon are said to have made use of.

The Freemasons have also frequently been said to be descended from the Knights Templars, and thus to have for their object to avenge the destruction of that Order, and so to be dangerous to Church and State; yet this assertion was repudiated as early as 1535 in the "Charter of Cologne," wherein the Masons call themselves the Brethren of St. John, because St. John the Baptist was the forerunner of the Light. According to the same document, the name of Freemasons was first given to the Brethren chiefly in Flanders, because some of them had been instrumental in erecting in the province of Hainault hospitals for persons suffering from St. Vitus's dance. And though some etymologists pretend the name to be derived from massa, a club, with which the doorkeeper was armed to drive away uninitiated intruders, we can only grant this etymology on the principle enunciated by Voltaire, that in etymology vowels go for very little, and consonants for nothing at all. The derivation from maison is as probable as any other that is alleged.

388. Freemasonry derived from many Sources.—But considering that Freemasonry is a tree the roots of which spread through so many soils, it follows that traces thereof must be found in its fruit; that its language and ritual should retain much of the various sects and institutions it has passed through before arriving at their present state, and in Masonry we meet with Indian, Egyptian, Jewish, and Christian ideas, terms, and symbols.

389. True History of Masonry.—The plain history of Freemasonry, without the varnish and tinsel Masonic writers have bedizened it with, may be summed up as follows:

In antiquity there were corporations of architects and engineers, who undertook the building of temples and stadia; the "Dionysiacs" in Greece, the "Collegium Muriorum" in Rome were such. They were the prototypes of the associations of masons, builders, carpenters, who in the Middle Ages flourished, chiefly in Germany and England. These, sometimes numbering six to eight hundred members, made contracts with monks, chapters, and other ecclesiastical authorities for the erection of cathedrals or churches. Eventually they made themselves independent of the Church, and in the thirteenth century they formed an extensive building association, originating at Cologne, and having lodges, as they called the directing members, at Strasbourg, Vienna, Cologne, and Zurich. There were other lodges, but these were the most important. They called themselves Free masons, and had ceremonies of initiation. Towards the end of the sixteenth century non-operative masons were admitted into the fraternity, who were called "accepted" Masons; they included men distinguished for learning or high position. Thus the work in the lodges became more symbolical than operative. The really working masons and builders gradually dispersed, and the accepted masons, whose expectations of being initiated into esoteric knowledge in the lodges were disappointed, withdrew from them, so that in 1717 there were only four lodges in London, which Dr. Desaguliers, James Anderson, and George Payne formed into a Grand Lodge, with which modern Freemasonry, purely symbolical, though retaining the technical terms of architecture, may be said to begin.

The fraternity was soon persecuted; the Popes, beginning with Clement XII., and ending with the present one, cast their thunderbolts at it; despotic rulers tried to suppress it. Of course the Masons themselves, to a great extent invited this persecution by the mystery in which they attempted to shroud their principles and proceedings, as also by the introduction of the "high degrees." The original Masons had confined themselves to the three degrees existing among operative builders apprentice, fellow-craft, and master. But these did not satisfy the vanity of some of the aristocratic members, or the ambition of such as wished to use the Order for party purposes. The chevalier Andreas Ramsay, a partisan of the exiled Stuarts, who asserted the Freemasons to be descended from the Crusaders, first gave the impulse to the starting of high degrees, in which political objects were aimed at, and which, after the country of the Stuarts, were called Scotch degrees. They were greatly multiplied, and the pursuit of these party purposes, of superstitious rites, and of personal vanity, invested every one with still increasing mysteries. At last they fell into the hands of impostors and adventurers, such as, for instance, Cagliostro.

In Germany the Order was made use of by three parties Reactionaries, Revolutionaries, and knightly fanatics. The Reactionaries founded Rosicrucianism, in which magic, astrology, alchemy, spiritism, and superstition in general occupied its cheats and dupes, opposing religious, political, and scientific progress. The Revolutionaries, by means of the Illuminati, who insinuated themselves into the Masonic order, endeavoured to bring about a new political and religious era. Knightly fanaticism was transplanted from France into Germany by the well-intentioned but visionary Baron Hund, who about the middle of the last century founded the Masonic system of the so-called Strict Observance (435), which followed the lines of the Knights Templars, from whom Hund wished to derive the Masonic order; we shall see that at the Congress of Wilhelmsbad (441) this assertion was negatived. The mystery of the ritual, and the splendour of some of the rites, gained Freemasonry many adherents in France, where the lodges were at last united under a Grand Lodge, called the Grand Orient, the first Grand Master of which was the Duke of Chartres, afterwards Philippe Egalite. Napoleon, when in power, appointed his brother Joseph Grand Master (444).