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Freemasonry

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 12 months ago


 

Paganism and Freemasonry

by Robert Fisher

 

Introduction

 

Before I begin, you’re probably wondering why I am qualified to speak upon the subject. Well as I’m sure you’ve guessed I am a Freemason. I have been a Freemason since I was initiated on 4th October 1996. I am a Past Master of St. Quentin’s Lodge in Cowbridge and am a member of one other Lodge, where I am currently Junior Warden as well as 3 other side degrees – Mark Masonry, Royal Arch Masonry and Royal Ark Mariners.

I have written a book on the history of Freemasonry in Cowbridge 1754 to 2004, a guide on how to learn and deliver Masonic ritual which is about to be distributed to all the Lodges in this province and hopefully the UK and am part of a committee currently engaged in writing a History of Freemasonry in our province, which is South Wales, Eastern Division.

 

So, this paper is about Paganism and Freemasonry, but obviously this is a huge topic and I have no choice but to limit its scope.

 

This paper will therefore be structured as follows: I intend to begin with a general introduction about Freemasonry before speaking specifically about Freemasonry and Paganism and then Masonic and Pagan symbolism.

 

Part 1: What is Freemasonry?

 

Freemasonry is probably the oldest and largest fraternal organization in the world.

 

Freemasonry under the United Grand Lodge of England is the UK’s largest, secular fraternal and charitable organisation. It has over 300,000 members working in nearly 8,000 lodges throughout England and Wales and 30,000 more members overseas. There are about 5 million Freemasons worldwide.

 

It is a fraternal order, although there are women Freemasons – something to which I shall return shortly.

Freemasonry has no doctrines or dogma or any political or religious affiliations.

 

Freemasonry defines itself as a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.

 

This system of morality is taught through a series of rituals, which are learned by heart and performed within lodge. The rituals in the main speak of the Building of King Solomon’s Temple and use operative stonemasons' tools as metaphors to teach moral and ethical lessons.

 

A new initiate will eventually progress through various degrees, and as he passes through each, it is hoped that he will gain a knowledge and understanding of himself, his relationship with others and his relationship with the Supreme Being (as he interprets this for himself).

 

The Supreme Being or the Great Architect of the Universe is referred to as such because it does not restrict membership to any one race or religion.

 

What we refer to as The Volume of the Sacred Law is always displayed in an open Lodge. In this country it is usually the King James Version of the Bible, but a candidate is given his choice of religious text. In Lodges with a membership of mixed religions it is quite common to find more than one sacred text displayed representing the beliefs of the individuals present.

 

The Origins of Freemasonry

 

It is highly unlikely that the true origins of Freemasonry will ever be discovered. The majority of modern writers believe that the movement began with the stonemasons who built Europe’s greatest cathedrals in the middle ages. These Masons were trained Craftsmen who were an elite class that, unlike ordinary serfs were educated and able to travel freely between countries. They were well paid and in order to prevent unskilled men posing as skilled Masons or a lower order of Masons posing as a Craftsman or a Master Mason, passwords and rites of initiation were developed to guard this privileged position.

 

There are two possibilities for the origin of the term ‘Free’ mason:

 

The first suggests that the title indicated that the mason was free of serfdom or similarly when a boy was taking an apprenticeship he was the servant of the Master. Once the apprenticeship was over he became Free.

 

The second suggestion is I believe more likely. There were two kinds of Masons. The rough Masons or Hard-hewers who shaped the large stones for the main structures of the cathedral or fortified manor and those who carved the fine facades and sculptures which feature on the cathedral faces. This second group worked in a soft stone, which was free of faults – freestone. The men who carved this stone became known as Freestone masons and ultimately Freemasons.

 

Between 1550 and 1700, the Freemasons changed. They became an organization of intellectual gentlemen, who favoured religious tolerance and friendship between men of different religions, and thought that a simple belief in God should replace controversial theological doctrines. In the language of the time, the ‘operative masons’ were replaced by ‘admitted masons’ or ‘gentlemen masons’.

 

Influences Upon Freemasonry

 

So, this is as much as we know, but there has been significant speculation about what else has influenced Freemasonry.

 

Knights Templar

 

Although it is widely accepted that Freemasonry originated in Medieval Scotland, the reason for this is unclear. Scotland possessed only a few stonemason’s lodges whereas continental Europe had many. It would be reasonable to suggest that Freemasonry developed in Europe but we know this not to be the case.

 

The theory is that Knights Templar fleeing persecution in Europe fled to Scotland with many artefacts of religious and material value. Once there, they were admitted into the fraternities of Scottish Freemasons and Sir William St. Clair built the chapel at Rosslyn to house these artefacts. There is no firm evidence to support this idea and it remains unverifiable speculation.

 

The Hiramic Legend

 

As we have seen, Masonic Ritual tells of the building of King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and the murder of the architect Hiram Abiff. Through his participation in the ritual, the candidate is supposed to learn how one can rise above ignorance, lust, passion and sin so that he can become master of his own destiny.

 

According to Dr. Albert Mackey, there is no biblical evidence that any such character actually existed and met his death in such a way. Rather than being part of a biblical tradition, Abiff is in fact the representative of the Egyptian god Osiris.

 

Equally it is argued that the Square and Compasses, which we shall look at again in more detail later, represent ancient pagan sun deities. In addition the sun temples of the ancient Middle East were built upon an East–West axis, just like a Masonic Temple.

 

Mithraism

 

In addition some Masonic writers claim there is a resemblance between Freemasonry and Mithraism – the cult of the Persian god Mithras, that featured elaborate initiation rites that eventually spread to the Roam Empire.

Mithraism was divided into grades, each of which had its own symbolic ceremonies to mark initiation. Also, Mithraists greeted one another with the word Brother.

 

Classical Legends

 

It was in Ancient Egypt that ceremonies of initiation are first found and truth is first represented as allegory.

 

Much Masonic architecture and formal dress – notably the Masonic apron is indebted to ancient Egyptian precedents. Certainly in ancient Egypt the architects and craftsmen involved in building the huge building projects were accorded a special status and were organized into guilds. Evidence for this comes from Papyrus records, one of which describes a guild that held secret meetings in or around 2000 BC. Its members met to discuss working conditions, wages and rules for labour and they provided charitable relief to worker’s widows and orphans.

 

Magic and alchemy

 

Ancient Egypt was also the home of Hermetic Magic, developed by Egyptian priests who venerated the God Hermes Trismegestus who as the messenger of the Gods, The Herald, the keeper of mysteries and the God of trial and initiation was an important figure for Freemasons.

 

In almost every Masonic Lodge there are representations of pyramids and sphinxes. When associated with the Eye of Providence the pyramid is said to represent the Supreme Being or the Great Architect of the Universe.

Some Masons also look to ancient Greece and believe that the culture and civilization of ancient Greece contributed to the development of Masonic Rites and Ritual.

 

Pythagoras founded his own secret society and used the Pentagram as a symbol of health and knowledge. The Pentagram, as we shall see, is used in Masonic decoration as a representation of the Golden Ratio.

 

The Seventeenth Century saw scientists such as Isaac Newton and Christopher Wren as members of the Royal Society, which had begun life as a quasi-Masonic institution called the Invisible College.

 

In its early days the meetings of the Invisible College were cloaked in secrecy. Galileo, a founder member, was condemned by the Catholic Church for daring to suggest that the earth revolved around the Sun. Discussion of anything of an esoteric, moral or scientific nature was required to take place underground in organisations such as Freemasonry.

 

Elias Ashmole, an alchemist, was initiated into Freemasonry in 1646 and went onto publish a compilation of alchemical writings.

 

For Freemasons, the branch of science of greatest interest was of course geometry, the knowedge of which they believed would make it possible to understand the principles upon which nature and society were built. The alchemists were a group of mystics dating from around the 12th century and the forerunners of modern chemists. They were also philosophers who used symbols and drawings extensively. Much of the graphic symbolism in Masonry such as the images of the plumb, square, level rough ashlar and perfect ashlar is due to alchemical texts.

 

Is Freemasonry a religion?

 

Freemasonry is not a religion. It has no theology and does not teach any route to salvation. Although every lodge meeting is opened and closed with a prayer and its ceremonies reflect essential truths and moral teachings common to many of the world’s great religions, no discussion of religion is permitted in lodge meetings.

 

Freemasonry and Politics

 

Freemasonry is definitely not a political organisation, it has no political agenda, and discussion of politics is not permitted at lodge meetings.

 

Women and Freemasonry

 

Now I cannot talk about Freemasonry without speaking about women and the allegation that it is a sexist organization.

 

Traditionally Freemasonry never admitted women because women were never stone Masons and speculative Freemasonry developed from operative Masons.

 

It has been argued by some, that women are not admitted to their Lodges because the presence of women would distract the men from attending to the serious business of the Lodge; and to prevent anyone from suggesting that immoral conduct took place in the lodge. Sometimes an additional reason was given: that women, with their tendency to gossip, could not be trusted to keep the secrets of the lodge. I could not disagree more with these statements and feel that there are strong arguments for women to be admitted into Freemasonry.

 

However, it is interesting to note that Women have been admitted to Masonic lodges in France at various times since the middle of the eighteenth century.

 

Although the United Grand Lodge of England governs Freemasonry throughout the UK and the world, there are many, many Masonic Lodges throughout the world who are not affiliated to the UGLE and admit either men and women or women only.

 

In 2008 the Order of Women Freemasons will be celebrating its centenary. At the moment there are 9,000 women Freemasons and their membership is rapidly growing, whereas male membership is falling.

 

They work on exactly the same principles as men-only Freemasonry, but are separate and have their own governing body.

 

 

Part 2: Freemasonry and Paganism

 

Now I am not an expert upon the Golden Dawn or Gerald Gardner and I am sure that some of you may know a lot more about each of these subjects, but I did not feel that any talk upon Freemasonry and Paganism could leave out any of these topics.

 

So, what better a place to start than with old Gerald himself – Gerald Gardner, the so-called father of Wicca.

 

Gerald Gardner and Wicca

 

Co-Freemasonry is a form of Freemasonry admitting both men and women. Since women are not generally allowed in Freemasonry, it is not officially recognized by most Masonic Lodges and Grand Lodges. Co-Freemasonry originated in France in the late nineteenth Century, during a period of strong feminist and women's suffrage campaigning. It was a Co-Masonic Lodge that Gerald Gardener was a member of.

 

As you probably all know Gerald Gardner was an English civil servant, amateur anthropologist, writer, and occultist who published some of the definitive texts for modern Wicca, which he was instrumental in founding.

It is possible that Gardner may have been introduced to Co-Freemasonry through Mabel Besant Scott, the one-time head of the British Federation of Co-Freemasonry and a member of the Crotona Fellowship, where he took part in theatre productions. Indeed several of the people who were proposed as members of the New Forest coven, into which Gerald Gardner claims to have been initiated were also very active in Co-Freemasonry.

Whatever Gardner’s influence in establishing the neo-Pagan religion of Wicca it is unquestionable that there are significant similarities between Masonic and Wiccan ritual.

 

 

I don’t think it’s wise I go into details of the similarities between the ritual in any more depth, but suffice to say there are many and as someone who has undergone both I can say without hesitation that they are indeed striking.

 

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is a tradition of magic and spiritual development. It is probably the single greatest influence on twentieth century western occultism. Many other traditions, including Wicca draw their concepts of magic and ritual from the Golden Dawn traditions.

 

The three founders, Dr. William Woodman, William Westcott, and Samuel Mathers were, you’ve guessed it, Freemasons and members of Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (S.R.I.A.) a Masonic Side Degree.

 

There appear to be many influences on Golden Dawn concepts and work including: Christian mysticism, Kabbalah, Hermeticism, Paganism of Egypt, Theurgy, Freemasonry, Alchemy, Theosophy, Eliphas Levi, Papus, Enochian magic, and medieval grimoires.

 

The Golden Dawn contains a great deal of Masonically-derived symbolism, but has no formal connection with Freemasonry.

 

In common with many other "fringe" or "occult" societies founded in the later years of the 19th century, the founders of the Golden Dawn seem to have adapted the existing allegorical and dramatic framework of Masonic ceremonies when constructing the Golden Dawn.

 

For instance, In the Outer Order, both the layout of the Temple and the functions of Officers seem to have closely mirrored those of the Blue Lodge of Masonry.

 

In the Inner Order, the drama enacted in the initiation rituals is reminiscent of that in the "Rose Croix" degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, and is certainly related to the ceremonies of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia.

 

I do not feel qualified to speak about the Golden Dawn in any more significant depth but it is quite clear that it had a significant influence on the development of modern Paganism - The Golden Dawn has been the most intensively used source for modern western occult and magical writing.

 

The Golden Dawn was probably the single greatest influence on 20th century western occultism. While it existed, it was the focal point of the development of magical thinking in Europe. In it, most concepts of magic and ritual that have since become core elements of Wicca, Thelema, and other forms of magical spirituality.

 

In its heyday, many cultural celebrities belonged to the Order. Some well-known members included Aleister Crowley, Arthur Machen and William Butler Yeats. The membership also included a large number of professional people, especially physicians, chemists, ministers and writers, many of whom were also Masons.

 

The Order ceased to exist in 1903.

 

Masonic Symbolism

 

And now we’ll move on to speak about Masonic Symbolism and make a comparison between it and Pagan symbolism, and where better to start than the Pentagram?

 

The Pentagram

 

As you may know, the first known uses of the pentagram are found in Mesopotamian writings dating to about 3000 BC as representing a city but it also had several other meanings including a corner or an angle or health and the heavens.

 

I do not propose to go into the history of the Pentagram and its various interpretations because it is Freemasonry that we are concentrating upon here, but suffice to say that the Pentagram was an early Christian symbol of the transfigured Christ and then a medieval talisman to guard against evil. In Hermeticism it became an allegorical symbol of man’s relationship with the cosmos and again in Christianity it was often seen as a token of the five wounds Christ received upon the Cross.

 

In Neo-Paganism the symbolism probably refers to the neo-Pythagorean understanding that the five vertices of the pentagram represent the four elements with the addition of Spirit as the uppermost point. As a representation of the elements, the pentagram is involved in the Wiccan practice of summoning the elemental spirits of the four directions at the beginning of a ritual.

 

The outer circle of the circumscribed pentagram is sometimes interpreted as binding the elements together or bringing them into harmony. The Neopagan pentagram is generally displayed with one point up, partly because of the "inverted" pentagram's association with Satanism; however, within traditional forms of Wicca a pentagram with two points up is associated with the Second Degree Initiation.

 

However, despite numerous attempts to prove the existence of a link, there is absolutely no connection between the Blazing Star or Square and Compasses of Masonic Ritual and the Pentagram.

 

Nor have any efforts to draw on Masonic veneration for Pythagoras established a link between Masonic initiation rites and the Pentagram as a Pythagorean symbol of initiation succeeded.

 

Although there are many examples of the Pentagram being used as Stonemason’s marks during the middle ages there is no proof its use played any part in the establishment of speculative Freemasonry.

 

Finally, although the five-pointed star can be seen as a representation of the Golden Ratio it is unproven whether early Freemasons thought of this association.

 

In other words the use of the Pentagram in Masonic architecture is purely ornamental and no symbolic or mystical association can be proven – sorry to disappoint.

 

The Square and Compasses

 

These are two of the Three Great Lights in Freemasonry and therefore have major parts to play in Masonic rituals associated with initiation into the Three Degrees.

 

The Square means morality, honesty and fair dealing, whilst the Compasses are Freemasonry’s most prominent symbol of truth and loyalty.

 

The Compass, which is used to draw circles, can also be seen as representing the realm of the spiritual while the square, the symbol of earth and the realm of the material.

 

Together, the compass and square represent the convergence of matter and spirit, and the convergence of earthly and spiritual responsibilities.

 

Coincidentally the two symbols together form a symbol similar to the hexagram, the union of earth with the heavens, matter and mind, etc.

 

The Hexagram has been used by a number of faiths and spiritualities such as the Star of David. In Ritual Magick, the hexagram is called the Seal of Solomon, and represents Divine Union, being composed of a female, watery triangle, and a male, fiery triangle.

 

When the points of a hexagram are connected, a hexagon is formed, which in Kabbala represents perfection.

In the Hindu religion, the hexagram is called the Shatkona, represents the symbol of the God Shiva, representing the element of fire, and the Shakti kona, representing the element of water. Together, they represent the union of male and female, and the heart chakra.

 

However, be all this as it may, I think there is a tendency to overcomplicate and over-mystify Freemasonry.

My views on all this is that symbology of Earth and Heaven or Male and Female etc are purely coincidental and that the Square and Compasses simply represent Morality and truth as we have seen. And to support this we can look back to 2500BC, where in China it meant just that; and again in the 4th Century BC the Chinese Philosopher Mencius taught that all men must apply the square figuratively to their lives if they would walk in the paths of wisdom and keep within the bounds of honour and virtue.

 

Interestingly, and I thought this was well worth a mention. Sandusky, Ohio is the only city in the world to have been laid out according to a Masonic Master plan. The surveyor Henry Kilbourne was a Freemason and took great care to plan the city as a whole as an open Bible with certain streets positioned to form the Square and Compasses.

 

The All Seeing Eye

 

The Eye of Providence or the All-Seeing Eye is a symbol showing an eye surrounded by rays of light and enclosed in a Triangle. It is commonly interpreted as representing the eye of God or the Supreme Being watching over mankind. Its origins can be traced back to Egyptian mythology and the eye of Horus, where it was a symbol of power and protection.

 

Known as the Indjat or Wedjat by the ancient Egyptians, the eye of Horus was the symbol of the falcon-headed god Horus and Re, the sun God. It was said to have healing and protective powers. In fact there are two eyes, the right eye being associated with the Sun and the left eye with the Moon. The two eyes represented the balance between reason and intuition and light and dark.

 

In Freemasonry, the all-seeing eye serves as a reminder to Masons that the Great Architect of the Universe always observes their deeds.

 

In Masonic literature the first historical reference to the all-seeing eye is found in the Freemason’s Monitor in 1797, which stated:

 

 

Although our thoughts, words and actions may be hidden from the eyes of man, yet the all-seeing eye whom the sun and moon and stars obey.... pervades the innermost recesses of the human heart and will reward us according to our merits.

 

Although Freemasonry adopted the all-seeing eye it is not a uniquely Masonic symbol at all and it often appears in Christian art and was a well-established artistic convention for a deity in Renaissance Times.

Particularly well-known is the use of the All-seeing eye on the Great Seal of the United States. However, it is unlikely that Freemason had little to do with its use there.

 

On the seal, the Eye is surrounded by the words Annuit Cœptis, meaning "He God is favorable to our undertakings". The Eye is positioned above an unfinished pyramid with thirteen steps, representing the original thirteen states and the future growth of the country. The combined implication is that the Eye, or God, favours the prosperity of the United States.

 

Conclusion

 

In conclusion I can only say that as someone who was initiated as a Freemason first and as a Wiccan second I can honestly say that the Wiccan training and initiation opened my eyes to the magical potential that Freemasonry has and I think it so sad that in the main Freemasons are concerned with the externals of rite or organization rather than deeper content.

 

 

Further reading

 

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