While there are Masonic authors who claim that the 1st caveman to lay one rock upon another was the 1st Mason, the organization known today as Freemasonry has it’s roots in the stone-cutters guilds of Medieval times who preserved enough Geometry to create large buildings that would stand up to gravity and the weather. To preserve the trade secrets which made them more valuable than the average untrained workman, they developed secret signs to exchange as proof they were of various skill levels.
In the late 1500s, early 1600s and well established by 1666, gentlemen who were not stone-cutters but merchants, scholars and even Royalty began to join the Craft. They transformed the “Lodges” into Philosophical organizations where men of all classes, religions and politics could meet without the disruption of society’s arguments. This was a period where Catholics, Anglicans and other Protestants burnt each other at the stake, killed a king and engaged in civil war. It seemed that Western Civilization could not survive, unless an “ark” of the knowledge of the ages was built to preserve it. Freemasonry was meant to be both that ark, and a rudder to try to turn events towards the Humanist philosophy.
In seeking to heal the Religious conflicts between Catholic, Anglican and other Christians, Freemasonry from it’s beginnings offered membership in England (though not in most Lodges in Europe) to the Jews who had recently begun to return to England, primarily from the Netherlands. King Edward I (nicknamed Longshaks) had expelled the Jews from Britain in 1290. Merchants and Traders were welcomed to visit but not settle until 1656. King James I had imported Jewish scholars to assist his own Clergy in translation and creation of the King James Bible. With the triumph of the Puritan Oliver Cromwell over Charles the I, Jews were unofficially tolerated and Sephardic Jews who had been traveling Europe since the Spanish and Portugal expulsions emigrated to London. Although The Jewish Naturalization Act of 1753 made their presence legal, and their loyalty to the Government during the Jacobite Revolts was widely recognized, popular antisemitism forced its repealed in 1754. Tolerated, Ashkenazi Jews from Germany, Poland and Russia found their way to the English coastal cities and established communities. It was not until Jewish Emancipation in either 1829 or 1858 that Jews were allowed to hold public office, though there are notable examples of them serving before that time.
Freemasons in Europe were less universal in their tolerance. In Catholic France, Jews were excluded until the French Revolution. Soon thereafter the Grand Orient of France reorganized to allow Jews, and eventually atheists and women, join. In Germany the first experiments with Christian /Jewish Lodges was the Order of the Asiatic Brethren, a Masonic Lodge under the protection of the local Prince, under the direction of a Christian, Hans Heinrich von Ecker und von Eckihoffem, specifically including Jews and their Qabalists wisdom, to create higher Masonic degrees incorporating more of the hidden Wisdom of the Qabalah into Freemasonry. It’s “Christian ” name was Die Brueder St. Johannes des Evangelisten aus Asien in Europa (the Asiatic Brethren of St. John the Evangelist in Europe) and it’s Magical name was Die Ritter des Lichts (Knights of the Light) AKA Order of Knights and Brothers of the Light. It was in cooperation with another (non Masonic) Magical Order , the Golden and Rosy Cross AKA the (Orden des Gold- und Rosenkreutzin) that much of this newly translated Qabalistic thought found a home, under the direction of Sigmund Richter, which used this Hebrew Qabalah in a Christian form as part of the Rosicrucian Path. The French Revolution and then Napoleon’ brief occupation of parts of Germany created rival Lodges of Freemasons under Charter from Free France which accepted Jews. This led to German antisemitic attacks on Freemasons, and a shutting down in many German Lodges of Recognition of Jewish and mixed Lodges, even extending to disrupt Masonic hospitality. The linking of traditionally hated minorities with a modern Secret Society spelled trouble in WW II when both Jews and Freemasons were sent to Death Camps, the former exterminated, the later worked to death.
Influenced by the Rosicrucian Movement of the 1600s, the concept of a benevolent Secret Society had great appeal during the turbulent Civil War years in Britain. Further influenced by the move towards greater scientific inquiry and experimentation over scholasticism and faith in Authority, modern Freemasonry was born.
The poem known as the “Regius Manuscript” dates from the 1390s and is the oldest text to mention Freemasonry’s rituals. Lodges apparently existed in Scotland first, but when Charles II fled to Scotland, then France, Freemasonry was carried to the Continent and introduced into the court of Louie XIII. Sir Robert Moray, who accompanied Charles in the retreat to France, is the 1st known Freemason in 1641, with Royalist Elias Ashmole, who kept the records for both Charles of the Order of the Star and Garter being the 2nd Mason for whom we have records, in 1646.
Freemasonry is universal, and exists in most countries of the world as a non-political, non-religious, organization and philosophy which (when these tools are employed upon the Self) makes good men better. It involves initiation experiences, memorization practice and philosophic thinking to have it’s full effect on the individual, his actions, the consequences of those actions in his immediate life, and the ripples that extend beyond that to the civilization, Nation and world. It teaches Brotherly Love (compassion), Relief (charity) and Truth (philosophy). The Hidden Mysteries of Freemasonry can never be written down or communicated to the uninitiated, not because you cannot find every single word of ritual and speculation on the web, but because they are EXPERIENTIAL, not intellectual. They are created each time a group of Masons work together to make something better.
Modern Freemasonry in America is founded on charters from the Grand Lodge of England (GLE), was founded in 1717. Lodges already existed, but about them we have little actual information. Within a few decades, a schism developed between the “Antients” and the “Moderns”, which was more or less worked out when they reunited in 1813 with the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England. Some Connecticut Lodges have Charters granted from England BEFORE the formation of the Grand Lodge of Connecticut, like the “Griswold Charter” of Wyllys-StsJohn #4 in West Hartford.
Early American Masons were chartered by the Grand Lodge of England for the most part, and many early Masons were soldiers initiated in traveling Military Lodges. George Washington, our 1st President, was made a Mason in Fredericksburg, Virginia in 1752 at the age of 20. Ben Franklin is often considered the quintessential early American Freemason. He was made a Mason in 1731, traveled as a Freemason in France (where he initiated Voltaire at the Lodge of the Seven Sisters). He became Grand Master of the Masons in Pennsylvania in 1734 and edited an American version of James Anderson‘s Constitutions of the Free-Masons that same year.
The oldest Grand Lodge in Europe, the Grand Orient de France (GOdF), was founded in 1733. Many other jurisdictions broke communication with them in 1875 when they embraced atheists, Co-Masonry and admitted women as Masons, all forbidden in the ANCIENT LANDMARKS. The Grande Loge Nationale Française (GLNF), a competing Grand Lodge which practiced a more “regular” form of Freemasonry sprung up to rival the GOdF, and many other Grand Lodges in other countries recognize their members as fellow Brothers. However, in 2012, the GLNF is having it’s own problems, and may be investigated by it’s members and/or the police for poor business practices.
In 1775, an African-American from the Caribbean Islands named Prince Hall was initiated into an Irish Constitution military Lodge in Boston, Massachusetts, with fourteen other free-born African-Americans. These separate Lodges continue today with primarily Black members, though in CT and many other States recognition between the two Grand Lodges has been established, and members of one Grand Lodge are welcome to join the other. Lodges in CT make no distinction of race, class or religion, and Right Worshipful Brother Ray Dragat started the recognition process by proving their Charter from Ireland was as legitimate as the British Charters received by the Colonials, and that both were historically from the same Fraternity.
The 1st three degrees of Freemasonry make up the Blue Lodge, the foundation upon which the Craft is erected. Other organizations have sprung up for specific purposes, to augment Blue Lodge functions and teachings. Philosophic Research Lodges are chartered in many States, as are State Police Degree Teams, Colonial Lodges and Traditional Observance Lodges, all of which exist under the rule of Grand Lodge.
The Appendent bodies of Freemasonry (Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, York Rite of Freemasonry, Eastern Star, Shrine , Groves etc) all function within the authority of Grand Lodge, but administer themselves. All members must be Master Masons in good standing, or in some case family members. Clearly, many Occultists of the British revival were both Freemasons and members of the Scottish Rite, often also the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (SRIA) and perhaps the Kabbalistic College of London. “Traveling Men,” continental Freemasons enjoyed warm hospitality in England, and the latest philosophy and books were often exchanged over 7 course meals.
The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry originated not in Scotland, but France where the Royalist Court of England, with its Scottish supporters, set up opposing camp to Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan Commonwealth. This Jacobite connection would cause trouble for at least the next hundred years. Sir Robert Moray accompanied Charles II in exile, and is the 1st Freemason for whom we have accurate records.
In addition, extra, non-sanctioned Rites and Orders sprung up, disavowed by Grand Lodges as superfluous or dangerous. The Rite of Memphis and Misraim is an unsanctioned Masonic rite and organization descended from Count Cagliostro‘s Napoleonic interpretation of Masonic Ideas, and was originally two different Rites until joined by General Giuseppe Garibaldi, who united Italy while he was at it!
The proliferation of Degrees and Lodge systems caused Estienne Morin to organize them into the current system of degrees, all based in some part on the Kodosh (Holy in Hebrew) degree and expressing lessons of morality and Wisdom through historical plays. The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry system was well received, and other Rites followed, such as the “Rectified Masonry” of Baron Karl Gotthelf von Hund, which evolved into the Rite of Strict Observance, 1751, and later the Rectified Scottish Rite of Jean-Baptiste Willermoz.
Although the Blue Lodge degrees of Freemasonry confirm that Master Mason is the sublime degree, many other degrees were created in the early 1600s and onward to teach different lessons and tools for Spiritual use. The confusion of this chaos cried out for Order, and the structure of the three bodies within the Scottish Rite are semi-self governing, representing the diversity of their origins. The Chevalier Andrew Michael Ramsay of Scotland’s theory of a connection between Freemasonry in 1650 and the Knights Templar (Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon (Latin: Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici)) of 1150. Etienne Morin carried these degrees to the West Indies in 1761, and then to America with Henry Francken in 1765. By 1783 it had taken hold in North Carolina, where Isaac De Costa established the Rite of Perfection. Frederick the Great added degrees and changed the name to the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite in 1786, but distance and politics delayed it’s transmission to America by Dr. Frederick Dalco (publisher of the 1st American edition of the Ahiman Rezon, Ancients Freemason ritual and explanation) and John Mitchell until 1801. That Isaac was its representative in the South and Moses Michael Hays in New York indicates that, at this time, Jews were welcome in the Scottish Rite. But the true heroes of the Scottish Rite story are Albert Mackey and Albert Pike. Pike had been incorporating the Hermetic teachings of Eliphas Levi into the older rituals, while Mackey laid out the structure. His Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Vol I (1873) & Vol II (1878) and Pike’s Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite Freemasonry remain classics of Masonry and Magick today, and the Qabalah is well represented in the Scottish Rite
The York Rite of Freemasonry is actually three independent bodies, the Royal Arch, Cryptic degrees and the Christian Knights Templar. The Royal Arch was once a part of the Master Mason degree, the other two bodies arose from degrees first practiced in Scotland (but the legend centers arounf York, England) and the efforts of Chevalier Andrew Michael Ramsay.
The Masonic Ritual is widely copies by occult groups such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. It was a familiar structure to many of the members upon which even more philosophic meaning was easily arranged. Like the Qabalistic Tree of Life, it served as a skeleton for further ritual development. When exposed to unfamiliar teachings from the Orient, Occultists who were Freemasons often found the structure of the Craft useful in explaining or codifying those teachings, as when Carl Kellner fit the Tantric lessons he had learned into the Academia Masonica, the precursor to the OTO or Ordo Templi Orientis.
A brief timeline might help sketch out the development of Masonic thought:
1723 James Anderson‘s Constitutions of the Free-Masons
1738 York Rite, an offshoot of the “Antients” formed in England , 1753 in America
1774 William Preston original rituals, which were…very verbose, Grand Master of GLE
1797 Thomas Smith Webb reworking Preson’s ritual so they could be performed in less than a day
1857 Albert Pike complies the various pre-existant rituals into the Scottish Rite
1860 Rob Morris 1st Masonic scholar to piece together the Rituals’ origins, and in 1855 established a system of Ladies’ Degrees, which were conferred at lodges called “Constellations.” “these degrees (the Holy Virgin and the Heroine of Jericho) may have been conferred on Masons’ wives, widows and daughters, in France, Switzerland, Italy and Germany, for over 300 years, under the protection of the Grand Orient of France, and of other Grand Lodges of Europe. In 1860, “the Constellations” were transformed into “Eastern Star Families,” again by Morris. In 1866, they became the “Order of the Eastern Star;
1866 Malcom C. Duncan publishes his widely read RITUAL AND MONITOR OF FREEMASONRY.
late 1880s Albert Mackey writes about the Landmarks and other Masonic subjects in America. His successor as head of the Scottish Rite is Albert Pike, who lifts, um, emulates Eliphas Levi in rewriting the degrees.
Freemasonry in America in the 2010s is struggling to redefine itself while continuing to be Ancient and Honorable. Some see a return to formality and banquets as the path, some increased Charity work, and a sizable segment of the Craft looks to return to Hermetic roots. In that last category Kirk White, Andrew Hammer and Chris Hodapp make reasoned arguments.
Resources: http://www.sacred-texts.com/mas/dun/dun02.htm; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freemasonry; http://www.ctfreemasons.net/; http://www.philosophiclodgeresearch.org/; http://www.sequin-level140.org/; Co Masonry. By W, Bro. R. N. T. Blake,1926;
you may also wish to look up these Occultists, philosophers and other influences on modern Esoteric Thought for how Freemasonry shaped them, they shaped Freemasonry, and the Esoteric thought we enjoy today.
Carl Kellner; Christopher Wren; Elias Ashmole; Kenneth R. H. Mackenzie ; P. B. Randolph; R. Swinburne Clymer; Robert Moray; Casanova; Comte de Saint-Germain; Edward Bulwer-Lytton; Eliphas Levi; Cagliostro; Franz Hartmann; Papus; John Yarker; Robert Wentworth Little; Saint-Yves d’Alveydre; Theodor Reuss; A.E. Waite; Manley P. Hall; Gerald Gardner (founder of Modern Wicca) ; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; Henry Khunrath ; Anthony Sayer (1st Grand Master of England); Capt. Joseph Elliot (SW of GLE 1717; Jacob Lamball (Grand Warden, 1st Jew admited to GLE); Henry Price (Provincial Grand Master of New England & Dominions); Jonathan Belcher; Daniel Coxe; The Duke of Sussex (in 1842 declared Religious Tolerance within the Craft in England to include non-Christians); James Churchward; Dr Albert Churchward;