A brief history of freemasonry

Discussion in 'Masonic Education' started by iainmason, Aug 4, 2009.

  1. iainmason

    iainmason Registered User


    By Bro. Rev. P.S. Smallfield, PDGC, E.C.;
    Presented 6 November 1914; Published by
    Auckland, New Zealand.

    Let me ask you to journey with me in imagination right back to the time when man's sojourn on this earth first began. On the way we shall pass three ancient landmarks. The first stands in the city of York, and was planted there by good King Athelstane in the year 926 AD, when he granted a charter to the English Masons. The second stands in the city of Jerusalem, and was planted there by the wise King Solomon, in the year 1000 BC., when he built his famous temple. The third stands in Mesopotamia, on the site of the Garden of Eden, and commemorates the first revelation of God to mankind.

    If we are concerned only with the history of the ritual of our Craft in the form made familiar to us in the working of our several degrees, we need go no further back than the first landmark.

    If our quest concerns only the identification of the eternal truth of our principles with the work and tools of operative Masonry, we need go no further back than the second landmark.

    But if we desire to know something of the antiquity of the eternal truths of Freemasonry we must go back to the third landmark, and then only shall we grasp the significance of the fact that the teaching of Freemasonry is as old as the race of man.

    We cannot remind ourselves too often that the real Freemasonry is not ritual, nor is it the presentation of truth by the aid of allegory and symbol. The real Freemasonry is the declaration of four great truths: the one-ness of God, the value of morality, the blessedness of charity, the assurance of immortality. Ritual and symbolism, most useful and important in their way, are but the ornaments of the mystical building which stands on the foundation of eternal truth.


    The eternal principles of our Order were revealed by T.G.A.O.T.U. to mankind before the Flood. After that event man in general fell from one error into another, and losing sight of the truth of the oneness of God, plunged into idolatry.

    The patriarchs, however, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were so enlightened as to preserve the truth, and through them the divine knowledge was handed on to the Hebrew people, and so, on to later ages.


    The next step in the history of our Craft is the formation of secret societies among the heathen nations. The philosophers and sages of those nations learned form the Hebrews three truths that their wisdom enabled them to receive with devout respect.
    These were:
    (1) The unity of God.
    (2) The immortality of the soul.
    (3) The value of morality.
    But the doctrines they dared not teach in public. History informs us what would have been the punishment for such temerity. The execution of Socrates is an evidence of the fate that generally overtook open religious reformers in those dark ages.

    Socrates lived in Athens five centuries before Christ. He was persuaded that he had a high religious mission to fulfill, and so he mixed with men familiarly, and in the street or market place, wherever listeners gathered round, he talked and questioned and discussed, not for gain, but form love of truth and a sense of duty.

    Then came the inevitable end. He was charged with not believing in the gods the State worshipped, and with corrupting the youth of Athens. He was condemned to death, which he met with perfect composure.

    It was no wonder, then, with this and possibly other examples before them, that philosophers of that age and in later times taught in secret the truths they were afraid to inculcate in public.

    To promulgate truth in the only safe manner they established the Ancient Mysteries, those truly Masonic institutions.

    Let us endeavor to trace the resemblance between the Mysteries and our Craft:-
    (1) A series of solemn and imposing ceremonies prepared the mind of the initiate to recognise the importance of the truths about to be revealed to him.
    (2) Great caution was exercised in the choice of candidates, for an unworthy initiate might have brought disaster upon the fraternity.
    (3) Secrecy was essential, so that no enemy of the Craft should gain a knowledge of the mysteries.
    (4) The members were in possession of signs and tokens by which they were able to acknowledge a traveling brother.

    The question naturally arises: What do we know about the teaching given in these Ancient Mysteries? Some information on this point has come down from the past. The Mysteries were not peculiar to one land or race. They included the rites of:
    (a) Mithras, celebrated in Persia;
    (b) Osiris and Isis, in Egypt;
    (c) Eleusis, in Greece;
    (d) Scandinavian and Druidical rites confined to Gothic and Celtic tribes.

    It is evident that a unity of design ran through these Mysteries, clearly indicating a common origin; for they all celebrated the death and subsequent resurrection of some exalted being, and so taught the doctrine of the immortality of the soul.

    It is evident, too, that a high standard of morality distinguished these fraternities. Certain references in Greek and Roman writers are valuable evidences of this. Sophocles was a tragic poet who wrote about 450 B.C. He says: "Thrice happy are those in the Shades below who have a knowledge of these rites, for they alone have life in Hades, while all other suffer there every kind of evil."

    And the Roman poet Horace, who wrote just before the time of Christ, says: "I would not dwell beneath the same roof, nor trust myself in the same frail bark, with the man who has betrayed the secrets of the Eleusianian rites."

    It is interesting to trace the story of these Mysteries to the end. They continued to flourish for some time after the commencement of the Christian era, but as the Christian Faith attracted the best, the purest, and the most thoughtful among the people of the Roman Empire, the Pagan Mysteries at length became corrupt, and in the end, the Emperor Theodosius, in the year 438, by a general edict of prescription, ordered the whole of the Pagan Mysteries to be abolished.

    Civilized mankind had, however, become accustomed to the existence of secret societies. The idea was never lost, and, notwithstanding the Emperor's edict, one such society continued to flourish and to prepare the way for the growth of Speculative Freemasonry.


    We now come, on our return journey, to the second stage in our researches, viz., the identification of the tools and work of operative masonry with the sublime truths which are as old as mankind.

    Among the ancient secret societies was that of the Dionysian Mysteries, an Order celebrated throughout Greece and Asia Minor. The legend of this Order was the murder of the god Bacchus, or, as the Greeks called him, Dionysus, by the Titans, and his subsequent restoration to life by the goddess Isis.

    The priests of the temples of Dionysus, where the Mysteries were celebrated, devoted themselves to architectural pursuits, and established in Asia Minor, about 1,000 years before the Christian era, a society of builders, styled the Fraternity of Dionysis Architects. As they possessed expert knowledge of Architecture and operative masonry, it was natural that they should be entrusted with the privilege of erecting temples and other public buildings.

    This fraternity was marked by several characteristics that strikingly assimilate it to our Order.
    (a) CHARITY. The more opulent were sacredly bound to help distressed brethren.
    (b) LODGES. Each lodge was governed by a master and officers.
    (c) SYMBOLS. The square and other implements were used to illustrate moral truth.
    (d) SIGNS. These served to distinguish a brother by night as well as by day.


    Our next step is to trace the connection between the Dionysian Fraternity and the Hebrew people, and the subsequent evolution of the Masonic Order.

    The City of Tyre, in the time of King Solomon, was the centre of a wide civilization. There, many arts and sciences flourished; and accordingly King Solomon, when he desired to build his temple, not finding any specially qualified architect among his own people, sent for such a man to Hiram, King of Tyre. That king dispatched to Jerusalem a name-sake of his own, Hiram, the widow's son, called Hiram Abiff, or "Hiram my father" (a title of respect), who is described as "a cunning man, endued with understanding, skilful to work in gold, and in silver, in brass, iron, stone, timber, purple, blue, fine linen, and crimson, also to grave any manner of graving, and to devise any device." He must have been, not only an excellent architect, but also a practical workman.

    Now, it is more than probable:-
    (1) that in Tyre there would be a branch or lodge of the Dionysian Mysteries,
    (2) that Hiram Abiff would be a prominent member of the lodge,
    (3) that he would take with him to Jerusalem many of his skilled brethren,
    (4) that in Jerusalem he and his brethren would initiate into their Order the more worthy of the Jewish workmen.
    So a lodge, as our legend declares, was founded at Jerusalem.


    Now for the next step in our history. After the completion of the Temple, the workmen who had been engaged upon its erection necessarily dispersed, to renew their labours in other lands. But they would carry with them -
    (1) The memory of the magnificent Temple of King Solomon.
    (2) The higher truths they had learned form the Hebrew religion.

    For mutual help and protection these workmen must have formed a society of architects and builders. As the Order continued to grow, its branches would be dispersed over the civilized parts of the world, and its members would keep intact the higher Truths, retaining all the symbolism based upon the use of a mason's tools. This society must have gradually merged into the society of Freemasons who began the building of cathedrals in Europe in later Christian times.


    A brief survey of the constitution and customs of this Society will be of interest here.

    The possession of trade secrets necessitate the keep in it a close corporation.

    The practice of morality was strictly enjoined because moral men were a strength to it and bad men a menace to its safety.

    When a branch traveled to a city under commission to build a cathedral, the masons proceeded to erect huts or lodges for their accommodation.

    To secure the better management of their own affairs the members of the Order jealously resented any interference from without, and so became known as "free and accepted masons." They secured order in their communities by an elaborate system of self-government. A Master regulated the management of the community, and every tenth man exercised authority as a Warden. Every country in Europe bears evidence of their skill. A uniformity in the style of mediaeval
    ecclesiastical buildings can be traced from Italy to Scotland; and the masons' marks on the stones of these edifices bear witness to the unity of the different fraternities. The Popes of Rome of those days patronised and encouraged the Freemasons; and a Papal bull rendered then independent of the authority of the Sovereigns in whose kingdoms they might be temporarily residing.

    After filling to Continent with cathedrals, churches, monasteries, and palaces, the Freemasons passed over to England, and began cathedral building there. Thence they traveled to Scotland, and there they rendered their existence ever memorable by building an abbey in the parish of Kilwinning, and at the same time planting the germ of Scottish Freemasonry, an order which has regularly descended through the Grand Lodge of Scotland to the present day.


    We have next to endeavour to answer the important question: how is it that Freemasonry, as we know it now, began in Great Britain, and not on the Continent of Europe?

    It was in this way: The European societies of Free and Accepted Masons continued for a long time to receive the protection and enjoy the patronage of the Church and the ruling powers; but at length the Church began to view with alarm the increase in numbers and the extension of power of the Masons. This feeling of alarm led to a persecution of the Masons, carried on with so unrelenting a vigour as eventually to lead to the extinction of the Order on the Continent.

    But by that time many lodges of Freemasonry had been established in Great Britain; and these, shielded by British justice, continued to propagate the principles of the Order throughout England and Scotland, and to preserve unimpaired the ancient landmarks.


    The oldest Masonic MS. known to be in existence is the "Regius." It is considered by experts to have been written about the year 1390. It formed part of the library collected by Henry VII, which was later presented by George II to the British Museum. It has been reproduced in facsimile by the Quatuor Coronati Lodge, with a commentary by R.F. Gould, and a glossary.

    It tells of the arrival of the Craft in England in "Good King Athelstane's day," and sets forth that the King called an assembly of Freemasons and granted a charter to the Order. This Charter embodied 15 Articles and 15 Points. Certain of the "Articles" were these:-

    The master shall be steadfast, loyal, and true. An apprentice must be a free man, for if a bondsman his master might fetch him away from the lodge. All chosen apprentices must be sound in limb.

    The following are certain of the "Points":
    Whosoever would attain to honor in the craft must love God.
    A freemason must tell the secrets of the lodge to no man.

    Then follows the legend of the "Quatuor Coronati," or "Four Martyrs," which was evidently the legend of the Craft in the 10th century. It sets forth the story of a persecution of the Christians in the 3rd century, during which four masons, who remained steadfast in the Faith, were placed alive in lead coffins and cast into a river.

    King Athelstane, then, granted this charter to the Masons in 926. Prince Edwin was chosen as Grandmaster of the first convocation of the Grand Lodge in York, thereinafter convened and from this assembly at York, the rise of Freemasonry in England is generally dated.

    For a long time the York Assembly exercised Masonic jurisdiction over all England. In the 16th century a rival Grand Lodge was formed in London, but by the year 1813 all discord was banished from English Masonry.

    From England, the Craft has spread to almost every part of the habitable globe, so that it necessarily follows that the sun is always at its meridian with respect to Freemasonry.
  2. dan

    dan Registered User

    Hello sir i would to try to join if i will be accepted. One of my friend is already a mason but he changed his number i think.as i cant ring him anymore. My location is in auckland new zealand. Thank you so much sir. Have a good day!

    Sent from my iPhone using My Freemasonry
  3. JamestheJust

    JamestheJust Registered User

    Men of good character rarely have a problem becoming Masons.

    Here is a contact for New Zealand

  4. dan

    dan Registered User

  5. Ripcord22A

    Ripcord22A Site Benefactor

    @Bloke is in Victoria Aus...perhaps he can help
  6. Warrior1256

    Warrior1256 Site Benefactor

    Great article!
  7. dan

    dan Registered User

  8. Bloke

    Bloke Premium Member

    The link supplied is definitely the way to go
    SimonM likes this.
  9. dan

    dan Registered User

  10. BroBook

    BroBook Premium Member

  11. JamestheJust

    JamestheJust Registered User

    >so that it necessarily follows that the sun is always at its meridian with respect to Freemasonry.

    This statement is more obviously true for mobile phones hence we may deduce that as usual Masonic teachings are veiled in allegory. What is the allegory in this case?

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