Founder: No specific founder
Date of Birth: Not applicable
Birth Place: Not Applicable
Year Founded: The first Grand Lodge of England was founded in 1717, marking the founding of the modern era of Freemasonry.
History: Freemasons can be traced back to medieval times when stonemasons formed guilds and unions, but some sources trace them back even further. Freemason legend dates their fraternity back to the building of King Solomon's temple in the Bible. The project, so legend has it, was so large that it required the stonemasons to organize themselves into groups and classes with distinct responsibilities. There is no concrete evidence of Masonry in ancient times, however. (Darrah, 63-4).
Scholars also speculate that Freemasonry has connections with the Greek and Roman mysteries, which were rites of entering their religions and kept secret upon penalty of death. It is suggested that the founders of the Masons had knowledge of the secrets of the Mysteries and used them to help form Freemasonry (Casavis, 53).
There is written evidence of the Masons dating back to the fourteenth century. In the Middle Ages stonemasons and architects were an elite class who could travel between countries, unlike serfs who had restrictions on their travel. They called themselves "free" because of this. The Masons were responsible for building beautiful structures across Europe, especially the cathedrals. Until the sixteenth century, Masons were simply craftsmen learning the operative art of masonry in guilds and unions (Mackey and McClennachan, 744-750).
In the beginning of the seventeenth century, union membership began to decline, and elite and prominent members of society were allowed in as "patrons of the Fraternity" and later as "accepted masons." (This is where the term "Free and Accepted Masons" comes from.) By the end of the seventeenth century a great change had occurred; the accepted masons outnumbered the actual stonemasons in the unions, and their discussion had turned from aspects of the actual trade to moral philosophy (Durrah, 90-92).
Masonry also borrowed a mystical aspect from the many mystical societies of medieval Europe, Many people were involved in these groups in Europe in the Middle Ages. When political freedom came to Europe, many of these groups were disbanded, but the esoteric interest in mysticism continued. Many people joined Freemasonry because of their interest in mysticism (Spence, 174-175).
In 1717, modern Masonry was founded with the first Grand Lodge in England. Early in its history this lodge was challenged by lodges that formed in other parts of the British Isles. They are called the Ancient Masons (Pick and Knight, 88). Although the two groups were fused together in the United Grand Lodge of England by 1813, the initial split caused the diversity of Lodges in the United States and beyond.
The first American Lodges were chartered by British Lodges, but as time went on American Lodges also began chartering new Lodges. The predominant form of Masonry in America today is Blue Lodge Masonry or the Craft (Dumenil, 9). There are discrepancies in the rituals and regulations of the different Lodges of the U. S. and around the world, but this report will focus on Blue Lodge Masonry, unless otherwise specified, since it is the most common in the U. S.
The Bible is the "Volume of Sacred Law" of most Western Lodges. It is one of the three objects comprising "The Three Great Lights," the most common and important Masonic symbol, which must be displayed while Lodges meet. The other objects are the compass and the square, and the sacred volume, which does not have to be the Bible. It may be whatever scripture is revered by the members of the Lodge (Hamil, 151).
Cult or Sect: Negative sentiments are typically implied when the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts "cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing "Cult" and "Sect" page, where you will find additional links to related issues.
Size of Group: The Freemasons are the worlds largest fraternal organization. They reached their highest membership in the 1950's. Today there are approximately five million masons worldwide, with half of their population in Lodges in the United States.
Freemasonry is not a religion. It is a fraternal order, although many Christian ideas and ideals are important to the Masons and are incorporated in their rituals. To become a Mason one must ask a friend in the Lodge to recommend him, sign a petition stating name, age, occupation, and place of residence, and all the members must vote unanimously on the acceptance. The requirement for membership is a belief in one non-specific Supreme Being.
Freemasonry's basic tenets are:
brotherly love (tolerance, respect, kindness and understanding of others, especially to their Masonic Brothers) relief (caring for the whole community through philanthropy) truth (morals) These basic tenets, when followed, should achieve a higher standard of life for the Masons. Masons build character by contact with the company and shared morals of their "Brothers" (fellow members). Masonry is said to take good men and make them better. It has religious undertones because of this stress on morality. Since Freemasonry is a fraternity, it also stresses the fellowship and enjoyable company of its brothers in social activities such as dinners, picnics, card/chess matches, lectures on Masonic history, etc.
Masons are restricted from talking about religion or politics in the Lodges because these are controversial topics known to divide men (Dumenil, 22). Having a religion is encouraged, although there is no specific one recommended. Christianity, however, seems to prevail in the US.
There is a set hierarchy of Lodges. In the United States there is a Grand Lodge in every state that has jurisdiction over all of the Lodges in the state. The jurisdiction of a Lodge determines its exact beliefs and rules. There is no higher authority than the Grand Lodge of a state. Lodges have monthly meetings called "Business Meetings" for the Master Masons.
There are three levels that joining Masons must advance through by memorizing a small amount of material that varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The levels are called degrees. The first degree is Entered Apprentice, the second, Fellow Craft, and the third is Master Mason. The head of the Lodge is called the Worshipful Master. Becoming a Master Mason usually takes a few months in the United States, but a mandatory three years in England.
Medieval tools of Masons are still used today to symbolize important ideas of the Masons and as important parts of Masonic Ritual. An example is the level. All Brothers meet on the same level, and are equals. Other symbols can be traced to pagan and Christian religons.
There is also much symbolism in the degrees of masonry. The three degrees represent a three story temple. When initiating a member, the Lodge is supposed to represent the ground floor of King Solomon's temple. The ground floor symbolizes the initiate's psychological connection with the material world. He is told that there are upper floors of the temple that symbolize his unconscious and as he advances in degrees he will advance psychologically in the understanding of his unconscious. The second Degree ceremony is held, figuratively in the middle chamber of the temple, symbolizing the soul. The third degree ceremony meets in the entrance of the Holy of Holies which has connection with the Spirit.
Freemasonry is known for its ornate rituals. One of the most interesting is the ceremony in which an initiate becomes a Master Mason. In the first phase of the ceremony the initiate must swear to many things including allegiance to God and his fellow Masons. When he thinks he has completed the ceremony and become a Master Mason, his real initiation begins. He is blindfolded and has to act out the part of Hiram Abiff, the murdered master in a legend of the building of King Solomon's temple. There is much action wherein the initiate must refuse to divulge the secrets of the Masons (as Hiram did) and is murdered (hit down) and wrapped in a sheet. At the end, the five points of fellowship are explained to him, along with many Masonic symbols.
The Masons are said to have secrets and are even called a secret society by many sources. Much controversy from anti-Masonic groups circles around these secrets. In the Middle Ages stonemasons had secrets about their trade that they jealously guarded. These, however, do not seem to be the secrets of Masons today. Freemasons themselves claim not to be a secret society, because membership is not a secret and their constitution, rules, aims, and principles are not secret. The secrets seem to be the mysticism that Freemasonry includes in its tradition. These include upholding the debunked sciences such as alchemy and astrology that were important to the fraternity in medieval times. Although they are understood as false today, they are very significant parts of history, and Masons realize this and keep the mysticism alive. Much of the mystical secrets of Masonry are not understood by its members today; they have not joined for partaking in these secrets, but for fraternity (Spence, 175). The secrets are supposed to be revealed to an individual Mason as he starts to probe his unconscious and understand it.
There are many off-shoots of and groups associated with Blue Lodge Masonry. Some are very similar to Masonry, and some are groups for family members of Masons, including women. The Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite (AASR) is actually accepted as a Masonic group, enabling members to go extra degrees, four through thirty-two, to become a Master Mason. A man must be a Master Mason (gone through the third degree) before joining the Scottish Rite. A thirty-third degree also exists and is bestowed on outstanding Masons. (Pick and Knight, 286).
Similarly, the York Rite, is made up of four Masonic groups, the Craft, Royal Arch, Royal and Select Master, and the Knights Templar and consists of nine more possible degrees than Craft Masonry. The top degrees of the York Rite are the Temple degrees which require the member to swear a specifically Christian oath. In some Lodges, this does not mean that the member must be a Christian, he must just be willing to swear a Christian oath (defending the right to any religion in general, although people of other religions may understandably not want to do this) (Pick and Knight, 282-285).
The Shrine is not a real Masonic body, although their complete title, the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles the Mystic Shrine for North America, is an anagram for "A MASON." It was founded in 1872 and has an Arabic theme. They are known to be pleasure seekers but are still moral, and also emphasize philanthropy (Pick and Knight, 287-288).
The Eastern Star was founded in 1850 and is a group for Master Masons or people properly related to Master Masons, including women. The relation can be wife, widow, sister, daughter, mother, granddaughter, step-mother, step-daughter, step-sister, half sister, and recently, nieces, daughters-in-law, and grandmothers. There are eighteen offices in each chapter, some filled by men, but mostly by women. The presiding officer is the Worthy Matron. The requirement for membership is a belief in a Supreme Being, although the New and Old Testaments are both part of the five degrees. This makes the Eastern Star a particularly Christian group (Pick and Knight, 288-289).
DeMolay is a group for young men ages thirteen to twenty-one and is sponsored by Masonic Lodges. They are similar to Masons and teach seven cardinal virtues of filial love, reverence for sacred things, courtesy, comradeship, fidelity, cleanliness, and patriotism. DeMolay's are supposed to apply these virtues to their everyday lives (Pick and Knight, 289).
Rainbow is a group for girls thirteen to twenty, similar to DeMolay. The participants must be related to either members of a Masonic Lodge or the Eastern Star. There are two levels to pass through (Pick and Knight, 289).
Job's Daughters is a group founded in 1920 comprising descendants of Master Masons ages eleven to twenty 1 . Their lessons concentrate on the book of Job with particular attention to the forty-second chapter, fifteenth verse (Pick and Knight, 289).
Prince Hall Masonry was founded by a free black man, Prince Hall, during the American Revolution. A few black men were originally part of Army Lodge #441, and later applied to the Grand Lodge of England for a charter. They received it and were called African Lodge #459. They were not invited to join with other Massachusetts lodges when they combined, so in 1827 they renamed themselves African Grand Lodge #1. Many Lodges today trace their origin to this Lodge. Their beliefs are similar to that of the Freemasons (Pick and Knight, 291-292).
Some other groups that are off-shoots of the Freemasons are Acacia, Order of Amaranth, Daughters of Mokanna, Daughters of the Nile, Desoms, Grotto, High Twelve International, The Ladies' Oriental Shrine of North America, National Sojourners, Inc., Philalethes, Royal Order of Scotland, Tall Cedars of Lebanon, and White Shrine of Jerusalem. There are also two Grand Lodges of Co-Masonry in the United States. These Lodges admit women as well as men and function similarly to regular Masonic Lodges with some extra degrees.
There are many controversies surrounding the history of the Freemasons. Much of this controversy stems from the secretive nature of the Masons. Many prominent figures including founding fathers and presidents have been Masons, and in some cases Freemasons have been accused of giving other Masons unfair advantages in job promotion, and also controlling decisions in government by being a sort of underground government themselves. And people today sometimes join the Freemasons in order to advance in their jobs (Dumenil, 23).
One of the most controversial times in Masonic history in the United States was the 1820's. In 1826 Captain William Morgan, a Mason, was going to publish a book of Masonic secrets. The printers shop was set on fire by local Masons and Morgan disappeared, allegedly captured by them and put to death. Many different versions of this story are circulating. The Masons say that it is untrue that Morgan was murdered, and that he fled to Canada. Anti-Masonic groups say that his body was found a year later in a harbor and identified by his wife and dentist. Other accounts say that his body was never found. Whatever the truth, this scene caused a lot of anti-Masonic sentiment. There was even an anti-Masonic presidential candidate in the 1820's (Mackey and McClenachen, 508).
Masons are blamed for scores of things. President John Quincy Adams blamed the Masons when he was not re-elected and Mason Andrew Jackson was. There are writings linking the Freemasons to President Lincoln's assassination, beliefs of Nazi Germany, the murder of Pope John Paul I, establishing the Ku Klux Klan, the Jack the Ripper Murders in England, the JFK assassination conspiracy, and many others. Most of these accounts do not seem to have much well supported evidence.
There has also been much controversy surrounding the bloody language of Masonic oaths. The penalties for telling Masonic secrets include tearing one's tongue out by the roots, plucking one's heart from its breast, and having one's body cut in two with the entrails burned to ashes. This language has spawned much anti-Masonic sentiment.
Some Christian groups, especially Catholics and Methodists, are historically opposed to Masonry. The bloody oaths and secrets caused the Roman Catholics to ban membership to Freemasonry and the Methodists to denounce it. Christians have also been very disturbed by Masonry's mixing of pagan and Christian beliefs. The compass and square which, along with the Christian Bible, form the Three Great Lights of Masonry, represent pagan solar gods. There are many other possible examples of mixing religions, which disturbs some members of Evangelical Christian churches (Cambell, 75-76).
A recent controversy involves the history of the Freemasons. A few sources say that Freemasons did not develop out of Medieval stonemason unions, but emerged from the Knights of the Templar, a privileged class of soldier monks in Medieval Europe. The Knights were attacked by many authorities for their knowledge of the Muslim and Jewish religions, and in 1307, King Philippe IV of France ordered their arrest and a raid of their preceptories. They supposedly escaped to Scotland with all of their treasures and these scholars say that Freemasonry evolved from the Knights Templar traditions. These ideas are offered instead of the stonemason history that the Freemasons claim (Baigent).
A Lodge Elder introduces a new piece of ritual into his lodge workings. How long does it take to become "time immemorial" in the eyes of the members of that lodge? It could be two years or less. It's this ability to pull the wool over our own eyes that bedevils masonic history. The study of masonic history in particular, requires an approach which includes Applied Logic and Social Psychology - two disciplines usually missing in masonic histories, but which I have attempted here.
Someone once wrote: ".nothing vexes people so much, and hardens them in their unbelief and in their dogged resistance to reforms, as undeniable facts and unanswerable arguments." This, I feel, applies in particular to much attempted masonic historical writing.
This paper is an attempt to outline (no more) a very brief history of Freemasonry, from an obscure starting point, through 1717 A.D. - at the formation of the premier Grand Lodge by four London lodges, at the Goose and Gridiron tavern in the shadow of St Paul's - to the present. It applies particularly to the English Constitution - although the basic history is of interest to all constitutions.
As we are trying to avoid "fairy tales" here, it must be pointed out that the insistence by the United Grand Lodge of England that "pure, antient Freemasonry consists of three degrees only.including the Royal Arch." is almost certainly historically inaccurate. Grand Lodges are of course entitled to decide for themselves exactly what their ritual consists of. Thus if the UGLE says it consists of three degrees including the Royal Arch, then they have that right - but I think it is confusing to suggest that their (modern) version is "pure, antient." because this tends to distort the facts.
A Question of Definition
First, let me define what I think "pure, antient" Freemasonry ritual is: It is quite simply the ritual that existed in 1717, when the premier Grand Lodge was formed. Surprisingly, we do have a pretty good idea what that ritual was - it's just that many masonic historians stick their head in the sand and concentrate on an undefined period a few years later, when another degree came into existence. This is an illogical approach. If we accept the date of 1717 as being the start of organized Freemasonry as we know it, then the original ritual must be that which was practiced in 1717. Anything else has to be an addition or innovation.
Do we have any idea of what this ritual was composed of? Almost certainly yes. The most valuable material here is Knoop, Jones and Hamer's book The Early Masonic Catechisms (1975, edited by Harry Carr). This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the evolution of Craft ritual.
Unlike the Old Charges, which seem to have originated as operative "trade union" charters, and which lodges seemed keen to keep as an indication of history, Early Masonic Catechisms concentrates on what are virtually scraps of paper (one is a mere 20cm by 15cm sheet of paper) upon which are written a form of ritual of a catechism (question and answer) nature. These include the Edinburgh Register House MS (1696), the Chetwode Crawley MS (1700) and the Kevan MS (circa 1715). All, you will note, immediately before 1717.
Having studied the above three manuscripts in detail, the authors state: "These three texts are so much alike in minute detail that it is quite certain that they all purport to describe the same procedure."
In fact, these catechisms have far more in common with our ritual than the Old Charges, which lodges seemed to possess to give themselves a patina of age. Now the point about the Old Charges, is that one could make a case for them being a saleable item; if every lodge were supposed to have one, there would have been steady jobs for scribes producing them. Not so the manuscripts mentioned above; they are loose leaves of paper, usually showing many folds and signs of great use, and which were not designed to appeal to anyone. Just like the scribbled bits of ritual masons have made up for centuries - to this day. In other words, there was no need to produce them except for use - which to me makes them pretty genuine.
What do they teach?
Now the amazing thing about these manuscripts, is that the average mason will find much to relate to: the method of placing the feet; mention of a "prentice" and "fellow-Craft"; the Five Points of Fellowship; the mention of the square, compasses and the Bible in the same context; the porch of Solomon's Temple; the basic penal sign; and of having a part of your body cut out and buried on the beach or thereabouts - there is much to recognize here. This really is beyond coincidence. There's sufficient evidence for it to stand up in a court of law! But only two degrees are mentioned.
The two-degree theory has been accepted for many years. For example take Lionel Vibert's Prestonian Lecture for 1925, titled "The development of the Trigradal System". Early in the lecture, Vibert writes: "By the days of Grand Lodge (1717) this had come to be a system of two degrees only, the Acceptance and the Master's Part." Later he says: "...and by 1730 the trigradal system was definitely established."
More up to date, in his article "Masters Lodges" in the September 1997 issue of the masonic magazine The Square, Yasha Beresiner writes: "Although we have no evidence of the degree work undertaken in Craft lodges before 1730, we know, beyond doubt, that there were only two degrees: that of the Entered Apprentice and Fellow of the Craft (or Master) as the second."
So we have two top masonic historians, with papers separated by over 70 years, agreeing that in 1717 the Craft ritual consisted of only two degrees; most serious historians agree with them.
So, at this point all the evidence points to the existence of only two degrees in 1717. Also, the early masonic catechisms mentioned, describe significant portions of the ritual as we know it today. Thus it is logical to assume that in 1717, speculative masons worked a two-degree system, along the lines of the masonic catechisms described by Knoop, Jones and Hamer.
It is of course interesting to speculate where these original two degrees came from. The Edinburgh House MS (1696) was, we know, an old document from the Court of Session, Edinburgh, found in 1808; the Chetwode Crawley (c. 1700) was discovered around 1900 in Ireland; while the Kevan MS (c. 1714) was discovered in 1954, in Scotland.
Looking through The Early Masonic Exposures, it seems likely that the earliest catechisms derive from Scotland, and slowly filtered through the rest of Britain.
There is a school of thought which suggests that there is a shortage of early English catechisms because they were committed to memory. This is totally illogical; such a system would have meant a great deal of change over the years because of the vagaries of human memory - whereas the amazing thing about the early catechisms mentioned above, is that so much still fits into our current ritual. This could only be achieved by writing the ritual down.
Enter a Third
Serious historians also agree that the third degree was devised or introduced around 1725. It was certainly established by 1730, because it was published in Pritchard's Masonry Dissected on that date, and became the unofficial ritual book of freemasons for decades. This is also virtually the first mention we have of the Hiramic legend. However the storyline itself is mirrored in non-masonic legends down the ages. It's hardly original. But who developed this third degree, how, and why?
The noted Scottish masonic historian Murray Lyon (died 1903), described Desaguliers as the "co-fabricator and pioneer of the system of symbolical masonry." He had a point. Certainly Desaguliers was just about the most influential mason of the period, being Grand Master in 1719, and Deputy Grand Master in 1722 and 1726. This was the period in which the third degree was introduced into the ceremony of the premier Grand Lodge - and logic tells us that Desaguliers, and his masonic friends in the Royal Society, just had to be responsible. Certainly, nothing could have been introduced without their approval.
In fact the Craft changed dramatically while Desaguliers was on the scene. The original Grand Lodge, so far as we can tell, was little more than an annual get-together for a feast or festival. They didn't even keep minutes. The Desaguliers era saw the introduction of the keeping of minutes, an improvement in administration - and the introduction of the third degree.
In fact, a curious set of minutes of Grand Lodge (24 June 1723) tell us that the Duke of Wharton, Grand Master, declined to name his successor, and referred the nomination to the Grand Lodge. Most unusual. This resulted in the nomination of the Rt Hon the Earl of Dalkeith. Dalkeith then stated that in the event of his election, he would nominate Desaguliers as his deputy. Wharton then immediately asked for the Grand Lodge to approve Desaguliers (contrary to regulations). The minutes state: "A division of the (Grand) Lodge was called.there were 43 Ayes in favor of Desaguliers and 42 Noes. Dalkeith was then elected Grand Master - whereupon Wharton declared he had some doubt as to whether the tellers had reported the Desaguliers vote accurately." (Manchester AMR Transactions LXXXIII).
There seems little doubt that almost 50 per cent of those present - not just Wharton - were not in favor of Desaguliers; an indication of distention without doubt. Could this have been because he was "plugging" for a change of direction? People trying to change things are never popular.
How was the third introduced? After all, the slightest alteration in ritual is liable to create hysteria among masons. But remember that these were early days, when the brethren had few lines of communication and were thus ill-informed. I suggest it was introduced as the "revival of the third degree". I say this because almost every degree or order in Masonry is, at the point of origin, declared a "revival". This automatically imparts on the degree/order an artificial veneer of age. Even with the premier Grand Lodge, within a few years "historians" were writing that it was really a revival of an older system. I maintain it would have been easy to introduce a third degree, if it were described as something more ancient that masons had used in the past.
Why? That's more difficult. This was around the time the premier Grand Lodge ceremony and outlook started to become de-christianised. The number three is more evocative than two; it may have been no more than that. What is interesting, is that there is a link - King Solomon's Temple is mentioned in the original two-degree system, and of course in the Hiramic legend; although this does not prove a connection.
If the above assumptions are correct, then it means that three-degree Masonry as we know it, derived from two sources. We know that much of our heritage comes from the material mentioned in the two-degree system outlined in The Early Masonic Catechisms because most of it is still in our ritual. But at some point, a group introduced additional material (the third degree) that is unlikely to have had any real historical connection to the early ritual. It seems probable that Desaguliers and his companions introduced this additional material for a specific reason. Why? I suggest that a closer look at Desaguliers and the Royal Society, in this period, might shed some light on the subject.
The Degree Explosion
The point is that it happened - and I contend that it set in motion a chain of events that reverberate to this day. Because from this point, degrees and orders proliferated until, around 1800, there were literally hundreds - possibly a thousand - degrees. It became a sort of fashion. Indeed, many of the other orders that sprung up in the 1700s, such as the Buffaloes, Druids and Oddfellows, still exist to this day. Social psychologists could have a field day here, for if one traces these degrees/orders downwards from their peak, you arrive back at the period in which the premier Grand Lodge introduced the third degree - causing a virtual tidal wave of fashion for such societies.
In fact Sandbach, in his Talks for Lodge and Chapter writes: "We have to bear in mind the revolution which the coming of the Hiramic (third) degree must have achieved.What it did was turn Freemasonry into a new path." It did indeed. What it did not do is make it "pure, antient".
And Then There Were Four
Some time around 1730, the ceremony we now know as the Royal Arch was developed. We know little about its origin, except that it was a great favorite with a group of mostly Irish masons who became known as the Antients. Anyone wishing to research the Antients, should read Sadler's Masonic Facts and Fictions.
We must bear in mind, again, that the introduction of degrees and orders at this time was starting to become a phenomenon. Most of the degrees that have been passed down to us, or of which we have evidence of the ritual, seem to slot somewhere into a biblical chronology of sorts. They are basically similar in construction.
To my mind the introduction of the Royal Arch could have been something extremely simple: if we accept that the premier Grand Lodge introduced the third degree, in which the word was lost - then the next logical progression would be to find it again: the vault and the Royal Arch.
In fact the storyline was already circulating. In one of his lectures, titled "The Mark and the Royal Arch", the noted historian Wallace McLeod writes, regarding the RA. "Actually the story.comes from the ancient Greek historian Philostorgius of Cappadocia (circa 400 AD) who wrote a History of the Church. Philostorgius tells the following story: The Roman Emperor Julian ordered the Temple at Jerusalem to be rebuilt.when the foundations were being readied, one stone, that had been laid in the bottom of the course was dislodged and revealed a cavern built into the rock.they could not see inside.The overseers wanted to know the truth, so they fastened one of their workmen to a long rope and let him down.feeling around, in the centre he discovered a block of rock projecting.when he put his hand on it he found a scroll. He picked it up and gave a signal to be pulled up.the scroll astonished both Gentiles and Jews, for when it was opened it displayed the words In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
McLeod goes on: ".it (the story) was picked up by the French journalist and writer Louis Travenol. He published it in 1747 in a revelation of the so-called Masonic secrets."
Then McLeod adds, in a masterpiece of understatement "This is certainly a tale calculated to raise our eyebrows". Indeed, I can see no other alternative but to assume that the Antients, desperate to keep a Christian influence in Masonry, came upon the Greek story and immediately adopted it to fill in the "loss" described in the new third degree.
An Antient Heritage
As mentioned, "degree fever" eventually become a social phenomenon of the 1700s. But not with the premier Grand Lodge (called the "Moderns") because they insisted, for over 70 years, that Masonry consisted of three degrees only - and that most certainly did not include the Royal Arch. To take just one example among many, in 1767 Samuel Spencer, Grand Secretary of the premier Grand Lodge, replying to a query about the Royal Arch, wrote: "The Royal Arch is a society which we do not recognize and which we hold to be an invention to introduce innovation and to seduce the brethren."
It's almost certain that Spencer himself didn't know the truth when decrying the Royal Arch as an innovation, because the premier Grand Lodge called the Antients "innovators" - when in fact they had lit the fuse themselves with the introduction of the third degree. On the other hand, the Antients - and others - embraced the degree ethic with enthusiasm.
The Antients used to open in a "fourth degree" and in this mode worked many other degrees until, around 1800, they had a degree structure of around 26 - and many more optional. We know this from the works of the likes of John Knight, who detailed the degrees and rituals in many hand-written books. It is also recorded that quite a few Moderns lodges used to work many, if not all of the Antient degrees - it is a fact that Knight himself was technically a "Modern" (he was a friend of Dunkerley) even though he worked the Antient structure and even Druid ceremonies.
As mentioned, the plethora of degrees and orders that sprung up show an amazing similarity in structure. Many masonic writers have commented that our antient brethren had fertile imaginations; whereas in truth they were virtually devoid of imagination. The format of obligations etc all show signs of emanating from the same source, with the same monotonous regularity. There is rarely any attempt at originality. Even as these other degrees developed, they retained a "traditional" structure. To this day, most of these "outside" degrees are similar in form and are recognizable; even repetitive. Even the orders outside the Craft suffer the same fate. The Gardeners (originated in the 1700s) for example possessed three degrees: the first featured Adam, the second Noah and the third King Solomon. In the Improved Order of Red Men (American), the opening shows the same structure as that of Freemasonry - and this is repeated through all the Red Man degrees.
The fact that most degrees or orders - within and without Freemasonry - are so similar in structure, is further evidence that they were created in a wave of "fashion". They all intimate that there are great secrets to unfold to the dedicated follower; yet none of them have fulfilled their promise - and that includes the "blue" degrees.
An examination of the Antient structure seems to show that it was decidedly chivalric, with a preponderance of "Knight of." degrees. In my opinion it still exists in a reasonably recognizable form in the American York Rite, which seems to contain many of the Antient degrees and orders, with the main exception of the Rose Croix or Rosy Crucian, which now languishes for some reason in the Ancient and Accepted or Scottish Rite. In England many of the remaining degrees are scattered around several other orders, such as the Holy Royal Arch Knight Templar Priests. But this is an avenue we shall go into at some future date.
Such was the success of the Antient structure, that many Moderns lodges performed them, totally disregarding what the premier Grand Lodge said. So much so that in 1766 a group within the Moderns forced through a "Charter of Compact" or separate Royal Arch Grand Chapter. This enabled Moderns lodges to carry out Antient degrees without having to compromise their "three degrees and no more" philosophy.
A Time for Compromise
This Antient structure - from the fourth or Royal Arch onwards - was the main stumbling block towards the union of the Moderns and Antients in England in 1813.
The Moderns - the premier Grand Lodge - had for 70 years insisted that Freemasonry consisted "of three degrees only" and of course it would have been a loss of face for them to have accepted any other. The Antients, on the other hand, insisted that the Royal Arch was the very essence of Freemasonry - and of course the key to the highly prized chivalric orders.
In the end a "nonsense" compromise was created in Article II of the Act of Union, which said that Freemasonry ".consists of three degrees and no more, viz., those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch." I quite honestly believe that such a ridiculous compromise could only have survived in Freemasonry - in any other organisation it would have been "laughed out of court". But this, it must be emphasized, applies only within the English Constitution so far as I know; and there is no doubt that this bizarre compromise was the only one which could have saved the Union.
However, this was not the end of the story, because the political machinations within the premier Grand Lodge were still active. They had literally been forced to accept the Royal Arch, but were determined to go no further. As Sandbach points out in his Talks for Lodge and Chapter: ".if we look at the original statement in the Act of Union, we find that the quotation (.three degrees and no more, including the Royal Arch.) is incomplete, because Article II in fact goes on to say: "But this Article is not intended to prevent any Lodge or Chapter from holding a meeting in any of the Degrees of the Orders of Chivalry according to the constitutions of the said orders." Those words quite clearly gave permission to Lodges and Chapters to confer degrees additional to the three Craft degrees." Yet this has never been allowed by the United Grand Lodge of England - despite the fact that I have seen no evidence to suggest that it was ever rescinded. Why?
It is patently obvious that, having fudged a compromise of sorts, the Moderns were determined to sweep aside all those "orders of chivalry" into oblivion. This they did with regard to the Craft; but luckily the Knights Templar and others had by this time developed administrative structures of their own, and mostly survived. But that is another story.
Bearing all the above in mind, we are now able to construct a brief example history of Freemasonry. It certainly won't please everyone; but it is a pragmatic reasoning - not one based on fairy stories.
A fairly simple, two-degree masonic ceremony originated in Scotland, and gradually spread throughout England. This was the one in general use in 1717, when the premier Grand Lodge was formed in London.
Around 1725, Desaguliers and others within the premier Grand Lodge, decided that the ceremony needed to be dechristianised - possibly to make it attractive to a wider membership - and they added a third degree.
Several years later another group - termed the Antients - added a fourth (Royal Arch) degree; and in this "mode" also carried out a wide variety of decidedly Christian and chivalric ceremonies. None of these were accepted by the premier Grand Lodge (Moderns).
However the Antient structure proved so popular with many Moderns lodges, that in 1766 the premier Grand Lodge formed a separate Royal Arch Grand Chapter, so that their members could conduct "Antient" degrees without infringing the Craft ceremonies. Indeed, so popular was this "Antient" practice of a multitude of degrees, that there were dozens, perhaps hundreds, created outside Freemasonry.
In 1813 the two rival English Grand Lodges came together, and achieved the compromise of "fusing" the Antients' Royal Arch onto the Craft third degree - then proceeded to ignore the rest of the Antient degrees.
It has to be emphasized again that the 1813 "compromise" applies only to the English Constitution. Everywhere else in the world, it is recognized that the Craft consists of only the three "blue" degrees, without the Royal Arch. However, the rest of the world has also got it wrong, because "pure, ancient" Freemasonry consisted of two degrees only. All the rest is innovation!
What are we to make of the above, on the assumption that it is reasonably correct? The main one is that there is no Grand Design. The first and second degrees almost certainly originated from a different source to that of the third; and the Royal Arch also came from somewhere else. It seems highly likely that the Royal Arch story originated in Greece around 400 AD - and the third degree could well have been adapted from one of many biblical stories.
This is important, because there is a general acceptance among masons (even Grand Lodges) that our ceremonies have a fixed, if slightly esoteric, meaning taken as a whole. That our ceremonies have been passed down unaltered through the centuries - and that there is a message, even a great secret, bound up in the complete "parcel". This, obviously, is not the case, because as we can see from the above, the overall picture is derived from several different sources, and the whole structure "just grew" - it really wasn't planned.
What we originally had, has been expanded dramatically over the centuries. It is generally recognized that the three degrees as "exposed" in Pritchard's Masonry Dissected, are a fair representation of the degrees at that time (1730). Just compare them with the three degrees we have now, and it's obvious that something which was originally fairly simple, became repetitive, convoluted, pompous and bloated in the period from 1717 to 1813. We have not - most definitely not - "always done it that way". Bearing in mind the considerable decline in membership of the major masonic countries (USA, Britain, Australia etc) could it be time to get back to basics?
What is needed now, is to concentrate on the three distinct divisions of masonic ritual - the first two degrees; the third; and the Royal Arch - and work out the history of each as a separate entity. In that way we may start to unravel the complex structure that is Freemasonry. To attempt to imagine the first, second, third and Royal Arch as an integral whole historically, is inaccurate and will only tend to confuse - unless you prefer fairy tales.