An occult movement of the seventeenth century. Freemasonry
emerged as the British form of revived gnosticism analogous
to the Rosicrucian movement in Germany. While having
its roots in the architectural and construction guilds of the Middle
Ages, modern masonry is rooted in the post-Reformation
revival of Gnostic thought and occult practice. The mythical
history of masonry served to protect it in the religiously intolerant
atmosphere operative in Great Britain at the time of its
History and Mythic Origin
Although it would not be exactly correct to say that the history
of Freemasonry was lost in the mists of antiquity, it is possible
to say that although to a certain degree traceable, its records
are of a scanty nature, and so crossed by the trails of other mystical
brotherhoods that disentanglement is an extremely difficult
The ancient legend of its foundation at the time of the building
of the Temple at Jerusalem is manifestly mythical. If one
might hazard an opinion, it would seem that at a very early
epoch in the history of civilization, a caste arose of builders in
stone, who jealously guarded the secret of their craft. Where
such a caste of operative masons might have arisen is altogether
a separate question, but it must obviously have been in a country
where working in stone was one of the principal arts. It is
Free Daist Communion Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
also almost certain that this early brotherhood must have been
hierophantic with a leadership adept in the ancient mysteries.
Its principal work to begin with would undoubtedly consist in
the raising of temples and similar structures, and as such it
would come into very close contact with the priesthood, if indeed
it was not wholly directed by it.
In early civilization only two classes of dwelling received the
attention of the architect—the temple and the palace. For example,
among the ruins of Egypt and Babylon, remains of private
houses are rare, but the temple and the royal residence are
conspicuous everywhere, and we know that among the ruins of
Central America temples and palaces alone remain, the huts of
the surrounding dwellers having long ago disappeared. The
temple was the nucleus of the early city. Commerce, agriculture,
and all the affairs of life revolved around the worship of
the gods.
A medieval cathedral took more than one generation to
erect, and in that time many masons came and went. The lodge
was invariably founded near the rising cathedral or abbey, and
apprentices and others started work as opportunity offered. Indeed,
a man might serve his apprenticeship and labor all
through his life on one building, without ever seeing any work
The evidence as to whether the master-masons were also architects
is very conflicting, and it has been held that the priests
were the architects of the British cathedrals, the master-masons
and operatives merely carrying out their designs. There is good
evidence, however, that this is not wholly true. Of all arts, architecture
is by far the most intricate. It is undoubtedly one that
requires a long and specific training. Questions arise of stress
and strain of the most difficult description, and it is obvious
that ecclesiastics, who had not undergone any special training,
would not be qualified to compose plans of the cathedrals.
Professional architects existed at a very early period, though
instances are on record where the priests of a certain locality
have taken upon themselves the credit of planning the cathedral
of the diocese. Be this as it may, the ‘‘mystery’’ of building
was sufficiently deep to require extensive knowledge and experience
and to a great extent this justifies the jealousy with which
the early masons regarded its secrets. Again, the jealousy with
which it was kept from the vulgar gaze may have been racial in
its origin, and may have arisen from such considerations as the
following ‘‘Let no stranger understand this craft of ours. Why
should we make it free to the heathen and the foreigner’’
Masonry in Great Britain
In Great Britain, prior to the founding of the Grand Lodge,
York and the north of England in general were regarded as the
most ancient seat of the fraternity. Indeed, without stretching
probabilities too far, the line of evolution so far as York is concerned
is quite remarkable. In the early days of that city a temple
of Serapis existed there, which was afterward a monastery
of the Begging Friars, and the mysteries of this god existed beside
the Roman Collegia or Craftsmen’s Society.
Some have argued that the crypt of York Minster affords evidence
of the progress of masonry from Roman to Saxon times.
It is stated that it has a mosaic pavement of blue and white tiles
laid in the form employed in the first degree of masonry. Undoubted
is the fact that the craft occasionally met in this crypt
during the eighteenth century.
Masonic tradition goes to show that even in the beginning
of the fourteenth century, masonry in Britain was regarded as
a thing of great antiquity. Lodge records for the most part only
date back to the sixteenth century in the oldest instances, but
ancient manuscripts are extant which undoubtedly relate to
Thus the old charges embodied in the Regius manuscript,
which was unearthed in 1839 by Halliwell Phillips, are dated at
1390 and contain a curious legend of the craft that tells how the
necessity of finding work of some description drove men to
consult Euclid, who recommended masonry as a craft to them.
It goes on to tell how masonry was founded in Egypt, and how
it entered England in the time of King Athelstan (d. 940). The
necessity for keeping close counsel as regards the secrets of the
craft is insisted upon in rude verse.
The Cooke manuscript from the early fifteenth century likewise
contains versions of the old charges. Egypt was regarded
here as the motherland of masonry, and King Athelstan the
medium for the introduction of the craft into the island of Britain.
But that this manuscript was used among masons at a later
date was proved by the 1890 discovery of a more modern version
dated about 1687 and known as the William Watson manuscript.
In all, about 70 of these old charges and pseudohistories
have been discovered since 1860. They all have much
in common and are of English origin.
The Birth of Speculative Masonry
Whatever the ancient and medieval roots of masonry, in the
seventeenth century it was given a new direction by the widespread
acceptance into the lodges of non-masons who used the
lodges as a home for their pursuit of spiritual wisdom apart
from the theology of the established church, often while keeping
a nominal membership in the Church of England. (By
1723, for example, all specific references to Christianity were
removed from the movement’s constitution; members had only
to acknowledge God, the Great Architect of the Universe.) The
first prominent speculative Freemason was astrologer Elias Ashmole
(1617–1692), an officer in the court of Charles II. Ashmole,
and his contemporaries such as Robert Fludd
(1574–1637), helped spread the revived gnosticism represented
on the continent by Rosicrucianism. Through the century,
speculative lodges consisting primarily if not exclusively of accepted
masons spread throughout England and Scotland
where they existed as a condoned (and somewhat unrecognized)
form of religious dissent.
The coming of age of speculative masonry was signaled by
the formation of the Grand Lodge of England, inaugurated on
St. John the Baptist’s Day 1717 by four of the old London
lodges. Rev. John Theophilus Desguliers, who became Grand
Master in 1719, was the chaplain to the Prince of Wales, and
used his considerable influence to spread the movement both
in England and France. The Grand Lodge provided the fraternity
with its first central governing body, as prior to this time
each lodge was self-governing. Many lodges speedily came
under its aegis, and Ireland formed a Grand Lodge of her own
in 1725, but Scotland did not follow until 1736, and even then
many lodges held aloof from the central body, only 33 out of
100 falling into line.
From one or other of these three governing bodies all the
regular lodges and variant rites throughout the world have arisen,
so that modern masonry may truthfully be said to be of British
origin. To say that Continental masonry is the offspring of
the British lodges is not to say that no masonic lodges existed
in France and Germany before the formation of the English
Grand Lodge, but underscores the break between the masonry
of the builders of the medieval architectual wonders and the
speculative masonry of the seventeenth century. All of the modern
speculative lodges in Europe date from the inception of the
English central body. However, the Continental masonry possesses
many rites that differ entirely from those found in the
British craft.
In Germany, which existed at this time as a number of independent
states, it was said that the Steinmetzin approximated
very strongly in medieval times to the British masons, if they
were not originally one and the same, but again, the modern
lodges in Germany all dated from the speculative lodge
founded in 1733.
We find the beginnings of modern French masonry in the
labors of Martine de Pasqually, Louis Claude de SaintMartin,
and perhaps to a some extent Cagliostro who toiled
greatly to found his Egyptian rite in France. It is noticeable,
however, that Cagliostro had become a member of a London
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Freemasonry
lodge before attempting work on the Continent. In France, masonry
had a more political complexion, being a source of the
democratic thought underlying the French (and later the Italian)
Revolution. Because of the political alignment of continental
Freemasonry, an extreme enmity developed between Freemasonry
and the Roman Catholic Church, which had aligned
itself to the royal families of Europe. Masonry in England, a
country that broke with Rome during the Reformation of the
sixteenth century, had a much more apolitical stance.
Official opposition to Freemasonry by the Roman Catholic
Church dates back to Papal bulls of 1738 and 1751 and is a tangled
story of suspicion and intrigue relating to masonic secrecy
and to complex political developments of the time. Much antagonism
has been deliberately fostered by mischief makers.
For example, during the nineteenth century, the French journalist
Gabriel Jogand-Pagés, writing under the name Leo
Taxil, perpetrated an extraordinary and prolonged hoax in
which he claimed to have exposed a Satanist activity within
Freemasonry. The motive appears to have been to embarrass
the Roman Catholic Church, but it also added to traditional
Church prejudices against Freemasonry and caused much trouble
for masons.
The plot involved the claim that a certain Diana Vaughan,
claimed to have been a High Priestess of Satanic Freemasonry
and dedicated to overthrowing Christianity and winning the
world for Satanism, had been converted to the Roman Catholic
faith. The memoirs of ‘‘Diana Vaughan,’’ written by Jogand,
were read by Pope Leo XIII, and Jogand himself was received
in private audience by the pope, and an anti-masonic congress
was summoned in 1887 at Trent.
On Easter Monday 1897, at a press conference to present
Diana Vaughan, Jogand confessed to his conspiracy and the details
of his complex hoax are now generally known. But, great
damage had already been done to relations between Roman
Catholics and Freemasons. In 1917 the church declared that
anyone who joined a masonic lodge was automatically excommunicated.
The Masonic Worldview
The Freemasons instituted an initiatory degree system by
which members were step-by-step brought into the inner working
of the lodge. Initially there were three degrees, but these
could never satisfy the true gnostics. Various elaborate systems
of degrees were developed to picture the levels leading from
this world to God and to symbolize the journey of the knowing
soul back home. The most famous, due to its success and longevity,
was the 30° system placed upon the original three degrees
that emerged as the 33° system of the Ancient and Accepted
Rite, the system operative in the United Grand Lodge.
This system became integral to the dominant American masonic
body, the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, and its teachings
as illustrated in the writings of Albert Pike, its dominant
intellectual leader.
As speculative masonry emerged, it espoused the idea that
masonry was a restatement of the ancient religion of humankind.
At one time, the masons suggested, there were two religions,
one for the educated and enlightened and one for the
masses. The one religion of the enlightened became the base
upon which the various historic faiths emerged. Through the
centuries, however, adepts (masters) kept the original teachings
intact, and they were eventually passed in their purity to
the masonic leadership. In the modern age, due to the evolution
of the race, more people are now capable of receiving and
safely handling that secret wisdom that is now being disseminated
by the masonic lodges. That secret wisdom came from
the ancient East and Middle East, and both Eastern religions
(especially Hinduism) and Western mystical systems such as Kabalism
assist the process of describing it.
The ancient wisdom myth of Freemasonry found an origin
in the Bible, a significantly more acceptable source to a Christian
establishment than Arabia and the Muslim countries of Rosicrucianism.
In 1 Kings 713–45, the masons found the story
of Hiram. Hiram was employed by King Solomon to work on
the temple in Jerusalem. After his work, he disappeared from
both the pages of the Bible and from history. Freemasons, however,
developed his biography that included a murder by his artisan
colleagues. Hiram, in working on the temple, became
aware of the ‘‘Word of God’’ inscribed in the secret parts of the
temple. He would not reveal what he had learned and his noncollegial
reticence cost him his life. His death then became integral
to the ritual initiation of members who symbolically die
and are reborn into the craft.
The masonic worldview begins with three fundamental realities.
First, there is a omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable
principle that is ineffable, beyond any limiting descriptors
of human language, the end-point of all metaphysical
speculation, the rootless root and the uncaused cause. Natural
law is a representation of the permanency of the absolute. Second,
there exists what we term space in the abstract. Space is
a symbol of divinity as it is basic to all experience; it is fathomless
but at the same time integral to all human concepts. Third,
there exists motion, another abstract notion, representing unconditioned
consciousness that manifests as spirit and matter.
Spirit and matter are two facets of the absolute.
The universe is seen as a boundless plane, a playground
upon which numerous universes come and go. There is an eternal
flex in which new universes begin to develop and are absorbed
back into the boundless space out of which they were
formed. Creation of a universe begins as space becomes turgid
and produces a first or potential matter called the akasa. Operating
on this matter is absolute abstract motion, latent potential
energy, consciousness, and cosmic ideation.
Thus at the beginning is the universal energy (fofat) and the
universal substance (akasa) behind which stands consciousness
and ultimately the absolute. As creation proceeds, it will occur
in steps of seven. Seven plans of creation will be formed from
the purely spiritual to physical substance. These seven planes
of existence are reflected throughout the universe. Each
human also possesses these seven levels. The seven levels are
atma, buddhi, manas, kama, astral, life principle, and physical.
The operation of these seven planes in the universe and in the
individual provide much room for speculative elaboration and
would later provide material upon which Theosophy would
Masonry in America
Through the eighteenth century, Freemasonry had aligned
itself with the Enlightenment and with the anti-monarchial
ideals of the late-century revolutionaries. Masonic and Rosicrucian
ideals flowed through the salons of France and supplied
vital ideological components of the new revolutionary ethos
that allowed the complete overthrow of an obsolete government
system and the institution of a new democratic system.
The Marquis de Lafayette, who joined in the American Revolution,
was a mason. In the United States James Madison; James
Monroe; Benjamin Franklin, who financed much of the revolution;
and George Washington, who led its armies, were Freemasons.
The input of Freemasonry in the founding of the republic
can now be found on the dollar bill, which hails the
coming of the ‘‘ordo nuevo seculorum,’’ the ‘‘new order of the
ages’’ and the pyramid topped with the all-seeing eye.
But masonry had established itself in America long before
the revolution. The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts dates from
1733 and that of South Carolina was founded just four years
later. The General Grand Chapter of the Royal Arch Masons
of the U.S.A. was founded in Boston in 1797 by representatives
from Massachusetts and New York. The Supreme Council 33
of Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry for the
Southern Jurisdiction of the United States of America was
formed in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1801. Albert Pike, the
most noteworthy of nineteenth century masons, was the leader
of this latter organization for many years (1859–1891). The
Freemasonry Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
Order of the Eastern Star, an auxiliary for female relatives of
masons, was founded in 1876. The masonic movement now encompasses
millions of members primarily in lodges affiliated to
its larger organizations, but also in a variety of smaller masonic
groups that follow various patterns of different speculative
Understanding the origins of speculative masonry as an occult
movement, and the essentially gnostic nature of its
thought, does much to explain why many prominent occultists
such as Manly Palmer Hall trumpeted their masonic connections.
It also shows how masonic thought served as a basis for
Theosophy, and the manner in which masonic organizations
provided the substructure upon which modern Rosicrucianism
emerged at the end of the nineteenth century. Masonry supplied
the organizational model not only for Rosicrucianism,
but for ceremonial magic groups such as the Hermetic Order
of the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templi Orientis.
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———. Freemasonry Through Six Centuries. 2 vols. Richmond,
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Hall, Manly P. Lost Keys of Freemasonry. Richmond, Va.
Macoy Publishing, 1923.
Haywood, H. I. The Newly Made Mason. Richmond, Va.
Macoy Publishing, 1948.
Knight, G. Norman, and F. Smyth. The Pocket History of Freemasonry.
London Fred K. Muller, 1977.
Knight, Stephen. The Brotherhood The Secret World of the Freemasons.
New York Stein & Day, 1984.
Mackey, Albert G. Mackey’s Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry.
Richmond, Va. Macoy Publishing, 1909.
Mellor, Alec. Our Separated Brethren The Freemasons. London
George G. Harp, 1964.
Voorhis, Harold V. B. Masonic Organizations and Allied Orders
and Degrees. N.p. Press of Henry Emmerson, 1952.
Waite, A. E. A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. 2 vols. London
William Rider; New York David McKay, 1921. Reprint,
New Hyde Park, N.Y. University Books, 1970. Reprint, New
York Weatherwane, 1971.
Freer, Ada Goodrich See Ada GoodrichFreer