Freemasonry is a fraternity which includes men and women of every race, nationality and religion. Wishing to do away with all cause for division and strife, it continually seeks the means which to help all human beings to unite and work together for the perfection of Humanity.
American Co-Masonry, an Masonic Obedience independent of all others, has not created a new Rite. That which distinguishes it from other existing Obedience's is that, instead of admitting men only to its ranks, it admits women on an equal footing. It proclaims equal rights for both sexes and absolute liberty of conscience; and it demands, in order to secure to everyone unlimited freedom in the search for truth, the utmost tolerance from all members. It avoids political and religious discussions wherever these cannot be carried on with the requisite tolerance and moderation; it welcomes everyone who is free and of good report, whatever may be his convictions in matters of religion, philosophy or politics.
American Co-Masonry seeks to destroy ignorance under whatever form, and its program may be explained as follows:
Each mason owes obedience to the Order and to the laws of his country; he must live honorably, practice justice, love his neighbor, work unceasingly for the true happiness of humanity and help human beings to emancipate themselves from the thralldom of passion and ignorance.
From the first to the last, to whatever degree the aspirant may desire to be admitted, the first condition to be fulfilled is to have a reputation of unsullied honor and probity.
Members of the Order owe to each other help and support in all circumstances and conditions of life.
To think high, to speak truth, to do well, to be tolerant to others, to search after truth, to practice liberty under law, fraternal equality, justice and solidarity, are the duties which the Supreme Council of American Co-Masonry, prescribes for its members seeking to build to the Glory of the Great Architect of the Universe, to the perfection of Humanity, and to the service of the Head of All True Freemasons, the true Masonic Temple open to both men and women.
Freemasonry is a system of morality developed and inculcated by the science of symbolism.
American Co-Masonry is founded on the principles of freedom of conscience, solidarity and justice, and is based on the facts of Brotherhood. It is organized as The American Federation of Human Rights, Inc., and stands for the Human Duty of mutual service.
It is Freemasonry opening its Temple to women as well as to men, because it recognizes that united strength is necessary and that efforts made by one sex alone are inadequate for the solution of economic, social and ethical problems.
In accordance with the ancient declaration of Freemasonry, American Co-Masonry, asserts the existence of a Supreme Power under the name of "The Great Architect of the Universe," at the same time leaving Human Reason at perfect liberty to differ in regard to His Attributes.
It imposes no restrictions on free search after truth, and in order to secure that freedom, exacts the greatest tolerance from its members.
Origins of Freemasonry
The true origin of Freemasonry is unknown, lost in time, and there are a good number of historians with diverse opinions, each vehemently supporting his or her own belief. We are making history every day, but its effects will mostly be evident years from now; maybe when we are not even alive to see it. "The truth" will be colored by each perceiver. So, we can talk of some events in our history but never really know the underlying current that for years worked to precipitate the moment. We have to trust there is Plan of Evolution, a Tracing Board, for Humanity and we are but a little speck within the current of life, evolving and cooperating with the big scheme.
In Albert G. Mackey 33░, Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, he states: " The origin and source whence first sprang the institution of Freemasonry, such as we now have it, has given rise to more difference of opinion and discussions among Masonic scholars than any other topic in the literature of the institution. Writers on the history of Freemasonry have, at different times, attributed its origin to the following sources:
History of Co-Masonry
American Co-Masonry traces its lineage to 1879 when twelve dissatisfied lodges separated from The Grand Orient of France and founded the Grande Lodge Symbolique de France.
The years that followed were full of controversy for the young Obedience when a woman journalist, Mademoiselle Marie Deraismes, who was a defender of women rights and the Craft, was initiated by the Lodge " Les Libre Penseurs" (The Free-thinkers). This lodge was one of the original lodges and had reserved in its charter the right to initiate women, proclaiming the essential equality of man and woman.
In vain Lodge Les Livre Penseurs sought recognition for Mademoiselle Deraismes from the Grand Lodge. Thus, on April 4, 1893, Lodge Livre Penseurs, and like-minded members, created an organization called Grand Loge Symbolique Escossaise Mixte de France, Le Droit Humain. The admission of women brought a complete change in the organization; it opened the doors to all of humanity who were ".. just, upright and free, of mature age, sound judgment and strict morals."
Eventually, the young Order became an international Order through the efforts of pioneers of the Theosophical Society such as Brothers Annie Besant, C. Jinarajadasa, Henry Steele Olcott and others who joined their ranks. Henceforth, wherever they took Theosophy, they also introduced Co-Masonry. In 1903 the first Co-Masonic Lodge was instituted in the USA.
In December 1993, when demands from the Supreme Council in Paris conflicted with the International Constitution and our own National Constitution, which mandated independence in internal affairs and Colorado law, the members were forced to voice where their loyalty lay. The majority of the lodges and members made the choice to remain faithful to the laws of Colorado and the precept of internal independence which had been respected since the founding of the Order in this country.
On April 11 of 1994, the Supreme Council of American Co-Masonry, The American Federation of Human Rights, was formed by Thirty-third Degree members of the Order. American Co-Masonry became an independent Obedience remaining with its Headquarters in Larkspur, Colorado.
American Co-Masonry is expanding not only in North America, but also in South America, and hopes to embrace all the Americas as one, in Brotherhood and service to Humanity.For a broader overview of Freemasonry (including membership details)
In Masonry we find many references to something valuable which has been lost, and the never-ending search for that treasure. One distinguished Masonic writer has this classification. He says,
"The evidence testifies to:
In spite of these references in all Masonic rituals, Masons for the most part regard the entire design as legendary with a merely symbolical meaning as applying to the ordinary life of man in the world and his relationship to his fellow-man. Among the thousands of Brethren under the American Grand Lodges, for example, there are very few who know about or care for any inner or spiritual significance. Perhaps this lack of interest in hidden meanings has its source in the idea, so prevalent among orthodox Masons, that Freemasonry originated in the operative guilds. They confine their search to old Craft records which can throw no light whatever on the spiritual purpose of Freemasonry and the nature of the Masonic quest. And so we find a certain barren quality in the moral platitudes of the ordinary interpretations of Masonic symbolism.
The average Mason knows nothing of the living Secret Tradition which is concealed within the pattern of Freemasonry, and the path which leads to the gateway of Initiation, where shines the Star above the portal of that glorious Temple, eternal in the heavens. The few who may discover "the key to the secret vault" have been described as "brethren of the free spirit"? brethren who somehow are aware of the hidden treasure and who seek with an open mind; who understand that the mystical Mount of Heredom is not a mountain on the face of the earth but "the hill of the Lord," the secret place of the Holy Grail. That which is said to have been lost is not actually lost, it has only been forgotten. It can be found at any time, and actually is found by those who seek with vision, concealed "under veils close to the hands of all."
The Masonic ritual as it exists today simply states the fact, in symbolical form, that there is something of great value to be found. Even though this statement apparently has no practical application to life for the average Mason, nevertheless for the few it shines like a great light, guiding them along that ancient path which leads to the Temple not made with hands. To quote Bro. Waite: "The Secret Tradition is concerned with the vision that begins in faith and with its attainment by the opening of that door which gives upon the Infinite." In the sacred mysteries of long ago the existence of "that door which gives upon the Infinite" was known to all people; the divine nature of man was recognized ? the "Hidden Light," as they called it. Those who so desired could undertake the task of preparing themselves to explore those deeper layers of consciousness and thus to serve in the inner sanctuary through which divine forces were distributed for the helping of the world.
In Co-Masonry we have been given the special work of restoring the potency of those Mysteries. We find this directive in the words of the Mystic Charge of the First Degree: "to pour the water of esoteric knowledge into the Masonic vessels" and we are told also that as initiates of the Co-Masonic Order we are specially called to this work.
The Founders of the Co-Masonic Order had no idea of any spiritual background in Freemasonry. They called themselves "Free-thinkers" and their philosophy was atheistic. They did not accept the principle of a Divine Intelligence as the directing agency in the Universe, Human reason was supreme, there was nothing beyond the mind of man; and so, all their work was dedicated to the glory of Humanity. The organization did not extend beyond the boundaries of France and such extension was not contemplated by the Founders. The desire of those French Masons was to give women political, economic and social equality with men. The movement was definitely feminist and political, designed to provide an additional weapon against the efforts of the clerical party to gain control of the French government; "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" was the slogan.
But the really important achievement of this effort was the admission of women to the privileges of ancient Freemasonry. This was accomplished and the foundation laid on which could be constructed a Temple suitable for the restoration of the Mysteries. The admission of women was the first step. Then the new impulse was given by the Head of All True Freemasons and Bro. Besant was made the leader of the Order in the British Empire. Immediately the inner purpose of the movement was apparent; there was the recognition of the Great Architect and His indwelling life in the Universe. There was the awareness of that line of evolution known as the Angelic Kingdom and their cooperative association with the human kingdom in Masonic ceremonies. And finally, the open door to the ancient path which has existed from time immemorial in the Mysteries, but which in modern days has been lost sight of, buried under the debris of materialism.
In the words of Dr. Carl Jung: "We moderns are faced with the necessity of rediscovering the life of the spirit; we must experience it anew for ourselves. It is the only way in which we can break the spell that binds us to the cycle of biological events." *** "In my picture of the world," he says, "there is a vast outer realm and an equally vast inner realm. Between these two stands Man, facing now one and now the other, according to his mood or disposition, taking the one for the absolute truth by denying or sacrificing the other."
Brethren, I am talking about this subject today because, as time goes by and those who were given direct knowledge of the goal to be achieved in Co-Masonry, one by one, depart to the Eternal Grand Lodge, the living quality of the great spiritual truths gradually lessens in brilliance, and the outer form could become, "a massive doorway leading nowhither," And so it is important and necessary to restate those eternal values and to remind ourselves that we are the custodians of a precious heritage which must be cherished and passed on to those who come after us, "pure and unsullied" as we received it.
The vast outer realm of the world, as Dr. Jung calls it, is very insistent and the pressure is strong. Man has acquired "delusions of grandeur" regarding his mind and has become arrogant in his new sense of power over the forces of Nature. This could lead to complete destruction were it not for the few, comparatively, who know that man is a divine being and that his destiny is to cause that divine spark to grow into a mighty flame of spiritual illumination.
Iamblichus, the Alexandrian philosopher, in writing of the Mysteries, says: "Using the reason alone Man can never come to any true realization of what he is in himself; that is, he can never understand by the mind alone that he is an eternal spiritual entity, a brilliant star shining by the light of its own essence." Iamblichus makes it quite clear that "not by discursive reasoning or through philosophical thinking alone does one come into fellowship with the gods. It is through the awakening of the higher spiritual powers by means of the rites of theurgy that the consummation of the long ages is effected."
Now "theurgy" is simply another name for magic ? the magic of the Masonic ritual, let us say, the modern vehicle of the Ancient Mysteries through which the Seeker for the Light may find reality. This great purpose is beautifully stated by Bro. Wilmshurst: "The union of the personal soul with its divine principle. Masonry has no other objective than this," says Bro. Wilmshurst. "All other matters of interest connected with it are but details subsidiary to this supreme achievement."
Freemasonry is ceremonial magic -? a mystical system established in the dim ages of the past by those spiritual teachers who were the guides of our infant humanity, and which remains today the chalice of the wisdom, unchanged in its inner potency, ever available to all who seek. The neophyte entering a Masonic lodge has this wonderful opportunity to find the ancient path, but that "door which gives upon the Infinite" will open only for the candidate whose deepest longing is for spiritual understanding.
In thinking of this aspiration in the heart of every true seeker, one remembers the well-known Eastern prayer:
"From the unreal lead me to the Real, From darkness lead me to Light, From death lead me to Immortality."
In this way the quest begins when the earnest candidate crosses the threshold of the lodge and steps into another world. As of old in the mysteries of Egypt and Greece, so today in the mysteries of ancient Freemasonry the "way to the heavenly city" is charted, even though it is said to be "veiled and hard to find."
In the words of Regardie in his book, The Tree of Life: "The supreme object of all magical ritual is the building of the pyramidal apex and the installation of the battlements on the intellectual tower; in other words, the communion with the Higher Self. For every man that is the most important step and no other compares with it in importance and validity until this one union has been accomplished. It brings with it new powers, new extensions of consciousness and a new vision of life. It throws a brilliant ray of illumination on the hitherto dark phases of life, removing from the mind the clouds which inhibit the glory of the spiritual light. With the attainment of the Vision and the Perfume, one sees the entire field of natural existence literally ablaze with a divine incomparable splendor, so that even the trees lift up their heads to the skies, and the grasses in the green meadows chant gently in praise and thanksgiving, offering hymns of glory to the Supernal Light."
This mystical system, Brethren, actually has two great purposes which are closely related and which move along simultaneously. One we have described. It has to do with the individual and his search for reality. Bro. Wilmshurst has this final warning to the candidate: "It is -? never to measure what he finds within the lodge by his own opinions or by the same standard of judgment which he applies to things without it. Many Brethren go wrong here by lacking humility and teachableness. They try to look at matters of the inner life with the same eyes as those of the outer life. They reserve their ideas of Masonry till they see how far they can square it with the other views and beliefs which they hold and they seek to apply their worldly wisdom to a wisdom which is hidden and not of this world. Spiritual things must be spiritually discerned and not from the standpoint of unenlightened opinion and unspiritual perception. He who enters the Lodge in search of Light should leave all his previous learning behind him with his garments and loose the shoes of personal opinion from off his feet."
The second great purpose of Freemasonry is to construct channels through which spiritual forces evoked in the ceremonies may flow out to the world for the helping of all men. This is accomplished by the cooperation of the angels who have been assigned to this work. In Co-Masonry these Angelic Brethren are recognized, thus enhancing the effectiveness of the channels created. In other Masonic systems the channels are less effective because of the ignorance of the members even though the unseen Brethren of the angelic world strive to carry out the work to which they are called in the opening ceremony of every Masonic lodge. Wherever a Co-Masonic Lodge is working, this important service to the world is performed. Through the Heavenly Man which is the Lodge, the forces evoked by the magic of the ritual are sent out into the atmosphere of the world.
Now the world "atmosphere" is a rather vague term but in this connection it has a very definite meaning-it is the layer of subtler matter, in varying degrees of density, which extends from the surface of the earth. It has been called a "dynamic magnetic" area and has the quality of transmitting impulses of various kinds. We are well acquainted with the interest of science in the fields of electronics and radiesthesia, and in the more recent research in the field of thought as a force, all operating through this invisible medium of the atmosphere. It is in this world of subtler matter that the work of a Masonic lodge is carried on. It is a definite scientific activity, accomplished today through the mechanism of the Masonic ritual as it was long ago through the ritual of the Mysteries.
It is said that evil is the absence of good but it is well to remember that force of any kind is neutral in itself but can be used for constructive purposes. Man, possessing the powers of the Creative Logos, can make use of force for good or evil. But though man inherently has the power to misuse force and create evil, his efforts in this direction are limited in the long run. There is the overall plan of the Great Architect which will prevail in the end. Through the process which is evolution, individuals unfold their potential divine nature, called in Masonry the "perfecting of humanity" and eventually attain the stature of the perfect man.
The content of the "dynamic magnetic" area enveloping the earth determines the condition of life on the planet. It is the great storehouse of good and evil forces generated by man. When the malefic force becomes excessive it is precipitated and the world is upset ? we have wars and disasters of various kinds. We are appalled by the horrors committed by human beings and the depth of misery on every side. But all of this is in accordance with natural and cyclic laws. It is a cleaning-up process when conditions have become too bad. Progress is temporarily retarded and the balance must be restored before a new era can begin.
Freemasonry is one of the great agencies which work for good and which prevent the complete overwhelming of the world by the powers of darkness. This, Brethren, is the reason for our coming together as Masons and performing the age-old magic of the ritual. When this great work is understood there will never be the idea, which some Brethren have, that because the membership is small and there are no candidates to be initiated, the Lodge is not doing anything and might as well not hold meetings or, at least, not very often. The admission of candidates is incidental. The true work of the lodge is the meeting - the gathering of the Brethren - the channel. The dynamic reality of that channel has been experienced by countless Brethren who have found that participating in the creative work of the lodge vitalizes the very atoms of their bodies. At the close of the meeting they feel refreshed and renewed.
And so, Brethren, we have not only the great privilege of sharing in the building of this channel, which Bro. Leadbeater has called "one of the mightiest" tools in the hands of the Spiritual King of the world, but also the enhanced effectiveness of ourselves as individuals.Edith Armour can be contacted through the Co-Masonry site at www.co-masonry.org
Is there a Proven History?
Empirical evidence of the history of Freemasonry prior to the 18th Century is hard to find. Historians can vary wildly in their opinions from the plausible to the sensational. Most masons believe that Freemasonry is derived from the early medieval stonemasons guilds and enquire no further. However, a well rounded study in Freemasonry should look more deeply at all appropriate alternative roots, even if only to be able to dismiss them.
There is no commonly accepted "Ancient History of Freemasonry" - even UGLE does not publish a "house" view prior to its own initial conception in 1717. Although no attempt was made to shed light on its history at that time, it seems that a resemblance of modern Freemasonry (judging from a corpus of medieval manuscripts) was already in place beforehand, even if its pedigree was lost.
The Conventional Explanation
Most historians concur that Freemasonry, in its current form, probably developed as an adjunct from medieval stonemasons and their successors through the ages leading up to the "Operative" Stone Masons Guilds. Just how or when the transition took place from "Operative" Guild Free-Stone Masonry to "Speculative" intellectual Freemasonry (using stonemasons' tools, clothing and customs as allegorical aids to teach their precepts) is not clear, although Scottish Lodge Kilwinning's records showing non Operatives being admitted by at least 1672 and some Lodges in England were entirely non Operative by the time of Elias Ashmole in 1646.
What was so special about stonemasons? They possessed great skill to create the castles, cathedrals and palaces and the necessary sculpted works and ornaments demanded of their masters. Such skill must have seemed almost magical to the vast illiterate masses. They were clearly the elite of the labour force, had secret customs and marks (as shown opposite) and would have attracted some of the brightest non-educated recruits. However, given the complexity of the various Masonic rituals and teachings, this simple explanation of Freemasonry seems inadequate. To obtain a deeper historical appreciation, one could consider the various ancient and medieval legends with an open mind and then decide for yourself which ones are a better "fit".
Legend: The Ancient Scientific Perspective
It has recently been suggested (by Knight and Lomas) that Freemasonry ultimately evolved from Megalithic tribes who, having discovered science and astronomy, constructed numerous astounding astronomical observatories including Newgrange on the river Boyne, Bryn Celli Ddu and Stonehenge between 7100 BC and 2500 BC. It is believed that these sites enabled those tribes to accurately chart the seasons and years by observing the rotations of the sun and the third brightest object in the sky, Venus. These were essential skills as without such timekeeping, civilisation would be hopelessly unable to plan or progress beyond mere day to day subsistence.
Indeed, the Book of Enoch, discovered amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls from the Qumran and from which many higher Masonic Orders draw their inspiration, explains the scientific principles by which those earliest observatories (or "Uriel's Machines") operate. It is then argued that this knowledge was shared and taken to the East prior to a predicted and devastating comet impact and subsequent world flood in 3150 BC.
Many survivors maintained Enochian and Noachide customs and when the Enochian-Zadokite priests were expelled from Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Romans, having first hidden their scrolls and treasures deep under the ruins of Solomon's Temple as recorded in the Qumran "Copper Scroll", it seems inevitable with hindsight that their descendants, the founding Knights Templar families led by Hugues de Payens, would return in 1140 AD to dig them up and retrieve them. A great story, but it is doubtful whether this theory will take hold in serious academic circles.
Legend: The Ancient Stone Mason Perspective
Whilst Freemasonry draws much imagery from the history and construction of King Solomon's Temple (@ 945 BC) by masons from the Phoenician city of Tyre, it seems fanciful to claim direct "Stone-Mason" links from that era. Nevertheless, skills in the manipulation of stone had clearly been well established by then and had been handed down through the ages, crossed many continents and through the hands of many peoples including craftsmen from the Greek, Byzantine and Roman eras.
Certain present day Masonic words and meanings seem to be derived or borrowed from the time of the early Egyptians of this era as they believed that the virtues of truth and justice were said to be 'on the square'. Confucius in 500BC referred to the squareness of actions; even Aristotle in 350 BC associates 'square actions' with honest dealings and virtue. The square and its symbolism is very old and has maintained a remarkable consistency of meaning over the centuries. However, it does not necessarily follow that Freemasonry began in those eras any more than trying to assert that Euclid was a Freemason because his 47th Proposition (as shown on the WM's jewel) has relevance in modern Freemasonry!
Legend next informs us that Athelstan, having subjugated most of the minor kingdoms of England, gathered together many skilled masons and established York Rite Masonry in 926 AD by granting them a Royal Charter. The charter enabled the stonemasons to meet in general assembly once a year and seems to have been a catalyst for a host of construction projects including numerous abbeys, castles and fortresses. Athelsans importance to Stonemasons is mentioned in both the Regius and Cooke Manuscripts. The Scottish Rite, by contrast, was established many centuries later by Chevalier Andrew Ramsay (Ramsay's Oration of 1737) and other exiled Stuart Scots in France who were plotting the restoration of James II. This has led to a diversity of subsequent Orders following the three basic Craft Degrees. Click here to find a drawing depicting the York and Scottish Rite relationship.
The Medieval "Operative" Masonic Guilds
We have evidence that Operative Masonic guilds (or gilds) existed in Scotland as early as 1057 and possibly in England from 1220 when we know the Masons' Livery Company was in existence. Those guilds, associations or Compagnonnage as they were known in France and mainland Europe, were conscripted to produce sufficient masons of all qualities to satisfy the aspirations of Kings and the Church in their respective building programmes.
In days where travel and communication for all but King and Church was highly restricted, the guilds are believed to have developed their own methods of introduction and secret modes of recognition when working on various programmes around the country. These were essential in order to distinguish a skilled master from the aspiring apprentice. This was important because they were no written credentials in those days because only top Master Masons could read, let alone write letters of introduction on expensive parchment. However, some historians (chief among them John J Robinson) argue it is difficult to prove English stone masons' guilds (unlike Scottish guilds) existed at all given the relative lack of evidence available to corroborate them.
Box Club Charity Theory
A more recent theory suggests modern Freemasonry developed from charitable beginnings. In the 1600's many trades operated what have become known as "box clubs" where their members would set aside earnings for the group or individual members to fall back on if they suffered hard times. Those without such assistance usually starved through lack of other reliable welfare support. Evidence indicates these box clubs began to admit members outside their trade and had many of the characteristics of early Masonic lodges. Perhaps Freemasonry arose from an early and successful "box club" framework which was later taken over by the leading intellectual lights that emerged in the seventeenth century?
The Knights Templar
Masonic legend and some tradition is borrowed from the fanciful stories of the Knights Templar, an enigmatic and powerful military Order of fighting monks set up by Hugues de Payens in 1118. Their illustrious history has been the subject of numerous fascinating books and their effect upon the course of world history, religion and commerce is much greater than generally recognized. They were also responsible for the erection of many churches (eg Middle Temple on the Embankment in London shown on the left) and the assembly of numerous large estates and would themselves have employed a great many stone masons.
Although their effect upon Freemasonry is very uncertain, they had amassed considerable wealth and influence in London, Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom that cannot be overlooked. Most serious historians dismiss a direct link to the Knights Templars for lack of evidence. However, is it possible that the Knights Templars might have shared some of their knowledge and rituals with their more senior stone masons with whom they employed who later incorporated them into their own traditions?
The Knights Templars' ostensible purpose was the protection of pilgrims on their journey from the coastal port of Jaffra to Jerusalem. Initially however, there were too few of them to be an effective escort. In any event, for the first nine years of their existence, they were far too busy purposefully digging under the ruins of King Solomon's Temple to be offering any support to Pilgrims. It seems clear that during their excavations they discovered something of immense spiritual or material value for they swiftly became very rich and powerful and enjoyed this position for nearly two hundred years until the fall of the Holy Lands. Evidence of Templar excavations was found by Lieutenant Warren, Royal Engineers in 1867. The Knights Templars were effectively extinguished on Friday 13th October 1307 by King Philippe of France who, broke at the time, stole their lands and possessions (a fate he inflicted upon French Jews two years earlier) and with collusion from the Pope, instructed the Inquisition to torture any Templars he managed to round up to gain evidence to legitimize his grand theft. Many of the fit and able Knights (and their entourage) and most of their wealth managed to escape. It is from their exodus from France and other parts of Europe that much of Masonic folklore stems.
Many Knights possibly settled in the comparative backwaters of Scotland, a land ruled by the excommunicated Robert The Bruce and therefore considered comparatively safe, being largely beyond the reach of the Pope and the Inquisition. No doubt they brought with them their treasures, relics, knowledge and ceremonies as depicted on the ground floor South West window stone carving at Rosslyn Chapel shown below. Some knights are believed to have traveled much further than the known lands of the times and even managed to find America. Certain corn carvings (see left) at Rosslyn Chapel appear to confirm this.
Given a background of organized secrecy, could it have been possible that Stonemasons' guilds became convenient, if not unwitting, conduits of social refuge through the ages? Templars, who required a degree of privacy from State or Church in their thoughts, discussions or travel arrangements would have found stonemasons' guilds attractive. History however, contains virtually no written references linking KT and Freemasonry until the 18th C. Most serious historians believe that a link with the Knights Templars only came about through marketing skills displayed by Ramsay in his Oration in 1737 when he attributed (in error) the origins of Freemasonry to " Crusaders" and the Knights of St John. Ramsey, a talented self-publicist, would have known that such a pedigree was bound to impress the French audience whom he was addressing. Robert Brydon, in his book "The Masons and the Rosy Cross", informs us that Alexander Duechar confused the issue still further by his attempts to revive Scottish Templarism and integrating it within the ambit of Freemasonry.
No discussion on Masonic history would be truly complete without a reference to Rosslyn Chapel, situated 5 miles south of Edinburgh and built in 1446 by Sir William St Clair whose family had deep Templar ancestry and alleged family ties back to Hugues de Payens. Rosslyn Chapel took 40 years to build and is highly embellished with Templar, Enochian and possibly some Masonic imagery. Given that it was constructed in an age when books could be censored or burned, it seems that William St Clair was intent on leaving permanent and peculiar encoded messages in the fabric of the chapel for posterity.
The chapel contains the astounding "Apprentice Pillar" and numerous other intriguing stone carvings - one, on an external window (the photograph is on this web page) even depicts some form of initiation. Curiously, the official Rosslyn Chapel guidebook states that the William St Clair, brother of Edward, was granted "the Charters of 1630 from the Masons of Scotland, recognizing that the position of Grand Master Mason of Scotland had been hereditary in the St Clair family since it was granted by James II in 1441," the original charter having been destroyed in a fire. Whilst the relevance of Rosslyn Chapel within Freemasonry is highly controversial, its architectural features and carvings are outstanding and well worth a visit.
Proven History: Pre 1700
So much for legend, what about the facts? It is acknowledged that the Regius Manuscript held in the British Museum is the oldest genuine record of Masonic relevance and was written in @ 1390. Its author was probably a priest and this MS takes the form of an historical and instructional poem. Interestingly, the phrase "So Mote it be" is first quoted from this text. Next, it is important to consider the Cooke Manuscript (also in the British Museum) written by a "Speculative" mason in 1450. This is an important document because many current Masonic usages (e.g. the Constitutions written by Anderson in 1723) have obviously borrowed heavily from its content, which includes reference to the seven Liberal Arts and Sciences and the building of Solomon's Temple. There are approximately 100 manuscripts, collectively known as the "Old Charges", grouped together in four families held by various museums worldwide.
In 1583, a William Schaw was appointed by King James VI (later James I of England) as Master of the Work and Warden General. In 1598 he issued the first of the now famous Schaw Statutes which set out the duties its members owed to their Lodge. It also imposed penalties for unsatisfactory work and prohibited work with unqualified masons. More importantly for Freemasons today, Schaw drew up a second Statute in 1599. The importance of this document lies in the fact that it makes the first veiled reference to the existence of esoteric knowledge within the craft of stone masonry. It also reveals that The Mother Lodge of Scotland, Lodge Kilwinning No. 0 existed at that time. His regulations required all lodges to keep written records, meet at specific times and test members in the "Art of Memory". As a consequence he is regarded by some as the founder of modern Freemasonry as we know it today. On the right is a photo of the ruins of the Chapter House, the site of Kilwinning's first Lodge meetings.
The earliest known record of a Masonic initiation anywhere is that of John Boswell, Laird of Auchenleck, who was initiated in the Lodge of Edinburgh according to the lodge minutes of 8 June 1600. That lodge was Operative and Boswell appears to be an example of one of the earliest Speculative initiations which adds weight to a case for the Transition Theory of Freemasonry, at least in Scotland. The earliest records of an initiation in England include Sir Robert Moray in 1641 and Elias Ashmole in 1646. Abroad, the first native-born American to be made a Mason was probably Jonathan Belcher, in 1704, who was then the Governor of Massachusetts. Ashmole was a renowned author and scholar and knew contemporary "Great Thinkers" of the day including Robert Boyle, Sir Robert Moray, Christopher Wren and Dr John Wilkins - joint founders of the Royal Society. Prior to securing its Royal Charter in 1662, the RS was known as the "Invisible College", an organization at one time led by Francis Bacon. It is understood the "Invisible College" often met in the early years in the Compton Room at Canonbury Tower in North London, a room embellished with wood panel carvings of Masonic significance commissioned by Bacon like the one below.
Given that non stone-masons ("Speculatives") were clearly being initiated from this time in England, some historians believe that Freemasonry was in "transition" at this point from pure "Operative" Masonry to Non Operative or "Speculative" Freemasonry. Equally, it could be argued that around this time, England copied the Scottish Masonic structure and set up an entirely Speculative form of Freemasonry which merely bore allegorical likeness to much earlier Scottish Operative lodges. This view has value when one considers that a disproportionate number of early Grand Masters were Scottish rather than Englishmen.
So why would "Thinkers" and educated classes quietly develop or promote the concept of Freemasonry? To get a flavor of the times in mid Seventeenth Century England, bear in mind that Pepys was a teenager, slavery was still universal, the gunpowder plot was in recent memory and the Great Plague and Fire were around the corner. Galileo was in deep trouble with the Catholic Church by insisting that the earth revolved around the sun, Bacon's works were banned by Rome and The Inquisition and the Courts, at least in Scotland, were still burning witches and heretics. These were still times of fear, state control and comparative intolerance. Personal safety therefore probably demanded that discussion of anything with an esoteric, moral or scientific flavor take place "underground".
Might it be possible that those in opposition to intellectual and political suppression went "underground" and retained their anonymity and safety by clothing themselves with the appearance of an operative organization afforded by an early masonic lodge structure? It is then easy to see that embellishment of this structure by the adoption of old stonemasons' Manuscripts and a perceived pedigree dating back to King Solomon would have given their membership a certain degree of authenticity and appeal.
From Mid Seventeenth Century onwards, the world was changed rapidly and freedom of thought, controlled or oppressed for centuries by state and religion alike, was in the ascendancy with the Renaissance and Rosicrucianism leading the way. Following the Great Fire of London, "Operative" Masonry earned increasing prestige with citizens witnessing the development of new architectural masterpieces (such as St Pauls, Piccadilly and the Royal Exchange) in the glorious era of construction in the late seventeenth Century. No doubt that those magnificent works created an added attraction for prospective "speculative" masons.
Proven History: Post 1700
Eventually, four London lodges (the Apple Tree Tavern in Charles Street, the Goose & Gridiron Ale-house in St. Paul's Churchyard, Crown Ale-House near Drury Street and the Rummer & Grapes Tavern in Channel-Row, Westminster) formed The Premier Grand Lodge of England on St John The Baptists Day, 24 June 1717 - a time when London club life was becoming very popular. The Inaugural Festive Board was held at the Goose and Gridiron, St Paul's (right). Anthony Sayer presided over this feast as Grand Master and curiously, the majority of early successive Grand Masters were Scottish rather than Englishmen. Why was this? Indeed in 1723 the Constitutions were written by Anderson, another Scotsman, whose father was PM of a lodge in Aberdeen. Clearly, our Scottish brethren had a lot to contribute towards the initial development of English Freemasonry.
Interestingly, it has been suggested that Premier Grand Lodge only came about as a result of the threat by the Scottish Jacobite revolt in 1715. This forced nervous London Freemasons, (knowing they were a Jacobite organization brought to England by a previous Jacobite King, James I) to disassociate themselves from their Scottish roots, hide their history and strategically create a governing body allied to the Hanoverian Crown. If so, little wonder that Freemasonry now prohibits discussion of religion and politics at meetings!
In 1730, Masonic ritual having been learned parrot-fashion, was widely published for the first time in Prichard's exposure entitled "Masonry Dissected". Ritual prior to that point probably followed a two-degree system and took the form of a combination of catechisms, some simplified symbolism and the "Old Charges" (see Jones and Hamer's "The Early Masonic Catechisms" edited by Henry Carr). Some historians (e.g. Murray Lyon) believe that this two-tier degree system was expanded when Desaguliers (Grand Master in 1719) wrote the Third Degree and grew again when Laurence Dermott (probably) introduced the Fourth Degree in 1752.
It seems reasonably clear that by this time (ie the period between 1690 and 1725), owing to a spate of "exposures", that numerous current Masonic usages, customs and ritual were already in practice: The words "hele" and "conceal" and "points of fellowship" are both found in the Edinburgh Register House Manuscript of 1696; the Square Compass and Bible are mentioned together in the Dumfries MS No. 4 of @ 1710, a London newspaper in 1723 salaciously described the "five Noble Orders of Architecture" and "Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth," made its appearance in print in a pamphlet printed in London in 1724. The word "Tyler" probably came in around this time and is thought to be derived from the French "Tailleur", ie "one who cuts."
The popularity of Freemasonry then grew with great speed throughout the UK and around the world following in the wake of British settlers, merchants and the military. In 1731 the first American Grand Lodge obtained its Constitution, The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, making it the first Grand Lodge in the United States of America. Over the next 100 years, Freemasonry attracted many leading lights forming the cream of the intellectual and scientific establishment including Voltaire of France, Montesquieu, Sir Robert Walpole, Robert Burns, Mozart, Darwin, Frederick the Great and from the USA, Franklin, and Washington.
However, initial successes in the UK were followed by a bad patch caused by poor leadership and culminated in a rival group setting up in opposition to what they saw as a corruption of the original ritual and Masonic ideals. Indeed, such a move was probably inevitable as Premier Grand Lodge had changed many passwords and altered the ritual thus alienating many Provincial, Irish and Scottish Masons. This gave birth to a break-away group called The Grand Lodge of England, nicknamed "The Antients," with those whom they left behind in The Premier Grand Lodge of England being nicknamed "The Moderns". The break-away group called themselves "Antients" because they felt they were adhering more faithfully to the old ritual, passwords and customs.
The Antients were founded in 1751 and met initially in the Turks Head Tavern, Greek Street, Soho. Their Constitutions, predominantly written by Laurence Dermott in 1756, were entitled Ahiman Rezon and it is commonly believed that under his influential regime, the RA ritual was augmented to include new esoteric texts now delivered by the three Principals. In 1775, Freemasons' Hall in London was first built by Thomas Sandby. Freemasons' Hall as we know it today was built on the same, but enlarged, site in 1932 and is dedicated to the Glorious Dead who fought in the Great War.
From this time onwards, new degrees and rituals proliferated which fuelled fierce argument between the "Antients" and the "Moderns". Indeed, French Freemason, JM Ragon estimated that at one point, there were over 1400 separate Masonic degrees complete with additional invented or regionalized symbolism. Consequently, sixty years of bitterness followed after the "Antient" and "Modern" schism. An example of dispute between these two Grand lodges would be the four-degree system worked by the "Antients" whilst the "Moderns" only recognized a three Degree system but to their irritation often found their members sympathetic to the fourth or Royal Arch Degree, to the point where it became regarded as an extension to the Third Degree.
Eventually a compromise was negotiated and on St John The Evangelists Day, 27 December 1813, United Grand Lodge of England was formed, largely though the combined efforts of the Earl of Moira presiding over the Duke of Sussex ("Moderns" Grand Master) and the Duke of Kent (an "Antient" Grand Master). The unification of these two bodies had enormous consequences for the ritual which had to be hurriedly reconciled. Most of the regulations and ritual determined then apply to this day, with the exception that the Royal Arch degree, expected to wither, flourished until 1832, whereupon the Triple Tau and new banners were introduced as the symbols of the order. More recently of course, certain colourful parts of RA and Craft texts have been toned down to satisfy the politically correct lobby.
There is another aspect of the history of Freemasonry that should not be completely overlooked: The objection to Freemasonry by the Catholic Church. Freemasonry has been banned by the Catholic Church several times beginning in 1738 by the Papal Bull issued by Pope Clement 12th; this was followed by another Bull in 1751 and again in 1884. Finally these Bulls were rescinded in 1974 and the Vatican has since adopted a more tolerant stance towards Freemasonry. The historic reasons the Vatican gave for their objections were varied. However, the reason for the first Papal Bull, according to an article by Matthew Scanlan (Freemasonry Today issue 25), was not based on any ideological objection to Freemasonry as is often supposed. Indeed in the wake of the 1738 Bull, the Pope's brother, Cardinal Corsini wrote stressing that Freemasonry in England was merely an "innocent amusement". The main objection, according to Corsini, was that a lodge in Florence founded by Freemason Baron Von Stosch had "degenerated". Stosch, it should be noted, was employed by London and was possibly using masonry as a cover to spy on the exiled Stuart cause in Rome, of whom Pope Clement was sympathetic. The ensuing ban caused widespread puzzlement for centuries with the assumption being that it was based purely on theological grounds. Clearly, this was not the case - another curious twist in the history of Freemasonry!
So, on reflection, do we consider Freemasonry originated from Megalithic times, King Solomon, Athelstan, the Knights Templars, Medieval Stone Masons, Schaw, Box charities, the "Invisible College" or the Rosicrucians? Moreover, do we consider the roots of modern Freemasonry to be more vested in Scotland or England or perhaps France? We can only speculate. Whatever course Freemasonry actually followed, it has inspired hundreds of thousands of people across many countries for more than three centuries and has attracted famous personalities from Europe, United States of America and other Continents. Providing Freemasonry adapts to the times (ie explains its positive purpose more effectively), it will doubtless continue to do so for several centuries more.