Origins of Freemasonry

Discussion in 'General Freemasonry Discussion' started by rhitland, May 20, 2010.

  1. rhitland

    rhitland Founding Member Premium Member

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    In a great discussion being had in the Wiccan thread Brother Huw said something specific that excited my curiosity.
    I have never heard that before. In my few years of research I have found that the origins of Freemasonry are hidden in history, with many great theories but ultimately no factual beginning. The origins of the Craft have always interested me and I wanted to let Brother Huw expound on that statement and give others a chance as well to express if they agree or disagree. I thought we had a thread about the origins but I could not find it.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 20, 2010
  2. JTM

    JTM "Just in case" Premium Member

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    fixed your quote. i agree... didn't start as "christian"

    the writers of the ritual knew the pagan traditions well.
     
  3. chancerobinson

    chancerobinson Registered User

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    I believe the brother is referring to The Constitutions of 1723 in which Brother Anderson clearly states "But though in ancient Times Masons were charg'd in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet 'tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be Good Men and true, or Men of Honor and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguish'd; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remain'd at a perpetual Distance."

    As for the fraternity's origins, I believe most if not all can agree that we will never truly know from whence we came. Yet I could conceive of some lodges in ancient times requiring a specific "Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was."

    I think Brother Henry W. Coil summarizes it quite well in Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia that "The Charges of a Free-Mason were the speculative paraphrasing of the Charges, Articles, and Points set forth in the various copies of the Gothic Constitutions. Finding no requirement for religious belief in the Ancient Charges, they placed none in the new."
     
  4. JTM

    JTM "Just in case" Premium Member

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    btw, "fixed his quote" meaning i closed the last bracket, not a content change.
     
  5. rhitland

    rhitland Founding Member Premium Member

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    Thanks JTM been on here forever and still feel like a noob at things like that

    It is hard for me to believe that religion was intended to mean secular branches of Christianity by the previous statement of ancient times. The word ancient means more than just a few years ago and if we are talking ancient times than Christianity had not yet even been conceived. The major most creditable theories of our beginnings have all been well before the birth of Christianity. I am not opposed to the idea that at one point Masonry took on an all Christian organization image as this religion through excellent teachings, truth and a bloody sword converted many people in those times. If Masonry's history was not shrouded in time I fear it would not be open to as many people. Unfortunately there are people who will close their minds to new ideals or ideas when coming from a religion or organization but Masonry with no real clear purpose but to make good men better stands apart and is open to for all to interpret it in a way that strengthens their faith best. I also believe that the origins are one of the more fun discussions in Masonry as well.
     
  6. JTM

    JTM "Just in case" Premium Member

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    this is pretty clear about the religion not having to be christian...
     
  7. owls84

    owls84 Moderator Premium Member

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    I personally find it hard to believe that Masonry was originated to Christian culture or any one culture. There are far too many things that would suggest otherwise. Why would Christians be so passionate about freedom of religion allowing all religions to be accepted into the Fraternity? I also believe that the Grand Lodge organization as we know it today was in fact formed in 1717 but Masonry the practice and belief predates this by thousands of years.

    Brother Rhit has on many occasions sparked my curiosity with the Phoenicians, whom of which our GM Hiram of Tire was one king of, and upon research of this there are so many things that indication the Masonic teachings and principals were alive and well at this time in history. If this is true then this would predate Christianity by over 1000 years. To me this indicates that the origin of the organization as we know it can possibly be dated but the principles and teachings as well as the beliefs are possibly lost forever and are largely debatable depending on how you shine your light given to you.
     
  8. Dave in Waco

    Dave in Waco Premium Member

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    I think a lot of it has to do with how you define the origin of Freemasonry as a whole. Do you consider Freemasonry to have its origin rooted in the ancient times that even predate our Grand Master Hiram Abiff? Do you consider Freemasonry to have its origin rooted in the formal organization of Grand Lodges? Our do you consider Freemasonry to have its origin in the shift from operative to speculative?

    The first of course predates Christianity, so it would not be possible for Freemasonry to be rooted in Christianity long before Christianity existed.

    The second and third are what would open it up for debate. Certainly there were some Christian influences, and it was probably groups of Christians who formally organized Grand Lodges and caused the shift from operative to speculative. But these were also men of enlightenment as well. They were men who embraced new ideas and new ways of thinking.
     
  9. Bro.Matthew

    Bro.Matthew Registered User

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    "Brother Rhit has on many occasions sparked my curiosity with the Phoenicians, whom of which our GM Hiram of Tire was one king of, and upon research of this there are so many things that indication the Masonic teachings and principals were alive and well at this time in history."

    Our GM Hiram was not a king but a worker of metals,there was King Hiram of Tyre that was a friend of King Solomons and a great contributer to the Temple.

    Myself I dont believe that Masonry is rooted in Christianity simply because all of our lessons and degrees are rooted in writings of the old testement.Also
    the MM degree didn't come on the scene until the mid to late 1700's and was at that time based upon Noah and his sons.

    "The second and third are what would open it up for debate. Certainly there were some Christian influences, and it was probably groups of Christians who formally organized Grand Lodges and caused the shift from operative to speculative. But these were also men of enlightenment as well. They were men who embraced new ideas and new ways of thinking."

    Many of which would have been tried and executed for heresy,the means to expand ones knowledge base and council was unheard of outside
    Masonry.You simply could not trust your neighbor to keep your secretes.These men questioned the very foundations of the churches controll over
    society,they invented scientific thought based on research not theology.For this reason I feal that Masonry (as we know it) may have started with
    Christian men,but it is and was intended for all men of all faiths to expand upon the sciences and arts for all mankind.As to the true origins of
    Masonry,since prior to 1717 there are very few references to Masonry other than "operative",I think this will become one of the topics we
    shouldn't discuss in lodge.It will be quite easy for mens passions to become aroused over what is for the most part theory and opinion.
     
  10. Huw

    Huw Guest

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    Hi JTM.

    Oh really? I see no evidence of that, save insofar as everyone including Christians has some awareness of other traditions from common knowledge.

    T & F,

    Huw
     
  11. Huw

    Huw Guest

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    Hi Chance.

    I'm not sure which brother you mean. If you mean me, then no, that's not what I had in mind. The Christian origin to which I referred derives from the Old Charges.

    That's utterly ridiculous! Did Coil really say such a thing?? If he did, then he must have had one too many beers that day.

    The Old Charges (a.k.a. Gothic Constitutions) are full of requirements for religious belief - lots of references to God, lots of references to Biblical stories and characters, specific charges to be men of faith, etc., etc. No-one who has ever read any of the Old Charges could suppose that they were addressed to anyone except Believers! For example, look at this from the Cooke MS (c. 1400 - 1450, Speth's translation to more modern English), the earliest surviving prose version: the very first charge says "whosoever desires to become a mason, it behoves him before all things to [love] God and the holy Church and all the Saints". I've read numerous of the Old Charges, they're all broadly similar and they all very clearly expect religious belief, and indeed specifically Christian belief.

    T & F,

    Huw
     
  12. Huw

    Huw Guest

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    Hi Rhit.

    Hard you may find it, yet nevertheless, different denominations and sects of Christianity is exactly what Anderson did mean. You've got to consider the religious and social environment of the time and place in which he was writing. He was a Christian minister, writing in London in 1723. Only Christianity was accepted as being a real religion, everything outside Christianity was regarded as some strange heathen cult suitable only for savages. (Well, okay, there were some Jews here too, and the Christians knew that was a real religion, but they weren't treated with much respect.)

    Your "Religion" meant your Christian denomination. "The Religion of that Country" meant whichever Christian denomination was officially approved in a particular country - thus an Anglican in England, a Catholic in France, and so on. "That Religion in which all Men agree" meant the basic tenets of Christianity underlying the various denominations. Their "particular Opinions" meant which Christian denomination they chose to join. And so on.

    "Ancient" is a pretty flexible word. From context it seems clear that Anderson meant the earlier history of operative stonemasons in Western Europe and in Britain in particular. He had in front of him George Payne's collection of Old Charges, which were concrete evidence of practice extending back into the medieval period, and he fancifully extended the history further back, partly based on the legends in those old documents and partly using his own imagination.

    ?? There's no such credible theory at all. There have been operative stonemasons chipping away at blocks of stone for many thousands of years, of course, but that's not freemasonry. That's just what it is, a man working in stone. For freemasonry in any identifiable sense, there is no evidence before the 1600s.

    T & F,

    Huw
     
  13. Huw

    Huw Guest

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    Hi JTM.

    Not so. See previous post. Anderson was talking about the different Christian denominations which were officially supported by the governments of different European countries. The religion of an operative mason did have to be Christian and nothing else, the Old Charges from c.1400 right through to Anderson's own lifetime were all perfectly clear and explicit about this. And those Old Charges went back well before there was any speculative freemasonry. At the time freemasonry started to emerge, it wasn't even legal in most parts of Europe to be anything but Christian, let alone allowable for a mason.

    T & F,

    Huw
     
  14. Huw

    Huw Guest

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    Hi Owls.

    To the extent that English and Scottish cultures are a little different (which they are, although not drastically), you can assert that it didn't originate in one culture. But both were strongly and strictly Christian cultures. And it certainly originated in England and Scotland.

    Such as what? I see nothing at all to suggest otherwise.

    The point originally was to allow different varieties of Christian to sit side by side. I think modern Americans often find it very difficult to understand the extreme religious tensions of the time when freemasonry began, tensions between different Christian denominations. By the time Anderson was writing, we'd been having major wars on and off for the best part of two centuries over the differences between denominations, and in Anderson's day that period was coming to an end but wasn't quite over ... Anderson and his Brethren were amongst those who wanted to see an end to the squabbling. But it was still the case in Anderson's day that advocating the merits of one Christian denomination over another was fighting talk, you could get yourself lynched by saying the wrong thing in the wrong place, and men of different denominations had to be pretty cautious about being seen associating with one another for fear of being cast out by their own denomination.

    Why were they passionate about freedom of religion? Because they'd had centuries of bitter experience of the alternating sequence of vicious oppression and horrible war which kept happening when there wasn't freedom of religion. They were sick of people fighting and dying over how many angels could dance on the point of a needle. (Incidentally: if we assume that Aquinas was right that angels are complete causes which require no spatial extension but cannot coincide, that space is indivisible below the Planck length of 10^-35 metres, and that we're using an ultra-fine needle with a point about 1 Angstrom in diameter, then the answer turns out to be about 1050 angels ... and of course I'll burn you at the stake for heresy if you disagree.)

    For about the first century of organised freemasonry, it remained a Christian organisation (although some Lodges had started bending the rules and broadening the membership, in particular admitting some Jewish members). But then, around 1800 or so, with the period of religious wars between Christians now over, most of the Brethren realised that the principles of freemasonry could apply to men of other religions as well ... and because they were men of goodwill who knew that freemasonry was a good thing, they deliberately sought to extend membership to include other faiths.

    No, Bro. There was operative stonework throughout history, of course. There were also various men throughout history who advocated philosophies of trying to be good guys, of course. But to call it freemasonry, you have to have some of the recognisable features: meetings in Lodges as a speculative fraternity, and so on. Without that, it's just a bunch of guys chipping a stone, or another bunch of guys saying "be nice", it's not something you can identify as "freemasonry". There's no identifiable freemasonry more than about 100 years before the foundation of the GL system in 1717.

    Well there were undoubtedly some guys advancing some of the same principles ... including some of the guys who were at that very time writing parts of the Old Testament - and of course King Solomon himself is supposed to have written Ecclesiastes and Proverbs and the Song of Songs.

    But what does that prove? Of course freemasonry shares biblical moral principles, because those principles dominated our whole Western civilisation even more at the time masonry was founded than they do now. The guys who invented freemasonry were all believing Christians, so of course there are a lot of principles in freemasonry which coincide with scripture and with what good men were saying at the time when scripture was being written. How could it be otherwise?

    T & F,

    Huw
     
  15. Huw

    Huw Guest

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    Thank you, Bro. Dave, very sensible contribution.

    This amounts to claiming "that was the beginning of civilised thought, and any thought which is civilised must automatically be freemasonry, so that was the beginning of freemasonry". That'd be just silly.

    Close, but doesn't quite stand up. The Brethren in the four old Lodges at the Goose & Gridiron on 24th June 1717 were clearly already freemasons, they didn't appear out of nowhere in a puff of smoke.

    Yes, exactly. There is nowhere else you can put it and still have a sensible definition of what is or isn't freemasonry.

    Much more than that. Everyone involved was Christian, most of them to an extent which today might be counted as fundamentalist fanatics. That was what was normal in those days! Sundry of the key figures (like Anderson and Desaguliers) were even Protestant Dissenter ministers, the inheritors of the Puritan tradition. To say these guys had "some Christian influences" is like saying those pilgrims who went over there on the Mayflower had "some Christian influences" - these guys were people who had cause to fear oppression for being such hardcore Christians, just like the Protestant Dissenters a century earlier who went on the Mayflower.

    Not just "probably". Certainly. In the 1600s over here, when operative was shifting to speculative, you were either a Christian or in very serious trouble.

    Enlightenment meant not burning someone at the stake for attending the "wrong" Christian church ... and many of the founders of freemasonry were against that because they were themselves the ones at risk. For example, Desaguliers' family had had to flee from France when he was a kid to escape vicious religious persecution.

    Enlightenment never meant stepping outside the bounds of Christianity, that was still utterly unacceptable. This was still the age of witchcraft trials, for Heaven's sake! (The last witchcraft trial in England was a mere 5 years before the founding of the GL of England.) All respectable people were Christian and nothing but Christian. Jews were tolerated, but were not part of respectable society. And if you were anything else, well ... you wouldn't have enjoyed the consequences.

    Yes indeed. But not non-Christian, far from it, that'd be gravely mis-reading both the environment of those times and the motivations of the founders.

    T & F,

    Huw
     
  16. Huw

    Huw Guest

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    Hi Bro. Matthew.

    Oh? Perhaps it's different over there, but here in England we teach that SKI and HKT were also GMs. "Three rule a Lodge because there were but three GMs who bore sway at the building of the Temple at Jerusalem, namely SKI, HKT and HAb" - don't you have that part?

    The main legend is Old Testament for the simple reason that the building of the Temple is by far the most detailed description of a building anywhere in the Bible, and therefore a natural choice for an Order based on a construction trade.

    In the old days there were a lot more explicitly New Testament references, but most of those were deliberately changed two hundred years ago when it was agreed to expand the Craft to non-Christians. None of these were central to the story, since that was Old Testament, so most of the New Testament references could be changed without spoiling the message for the existing (Christian) members whilst making it more compatible with the new (non-Christian) members. (Incidentally, you only did a partial job of this in the US - American rituals still tend to contain various explicitly Christian references, such as to the Sts. John.)

    Not so. The MM came in sometime in the 1720s. I have a complete text of the MM ritual from 1730 (Prichard, "Masonry Dissected", published October 1730). And this uses the Hiramic legend, not the Noah version. It's only 3 pages long, so much less elaborate than it subsequently became, but the Hiramic legend is fully recognisable - HAb in the Temple, the ruffians, the crime, the search, the manner of discovery, the marking of the site, the f.p.o.f., the Wd., the re-burial - the essential elements are all mentioned briefly, except the fate of the ruffians.

    It's true that there was another version, around the same time or slightly later, which used a Noah legend instead. However, it seems likely that this was merely someone's attempt to experiment with a different version of a degree which hadn't yet settled into its final form. The Noah version didn't catch on very widely, perhaps because the Hiramic version fitted better with the Temple story of the previous degrees, so before long everyone settled down with the Hiram version and the Noah version was dropped.

    Neither then nor subsequently has the GL of England ever said anything on that subject.

    As individuals, however, I agree that it's plausible that many of the founders might have been opposed to Church control: many of them were members of Dissenting Churches (i.e. not the Church that had the control), and many of the others who were members of the Established Church were supporters of tolerance.

    I think that's rather an exaggeration. Certainly several prominent early Brethren were involved in organisations such as the Royal Society which established the practice of real scientific research. However, they didn't invent the idea (Bacon had already done that a century earlier), and many non-Masons were also involved. But yes, we can be proud that our predecessors contributed significantly to the establishment of systematic research.

    Obviously that's part of the intention now. But it wasn't the original concept to include non-Christians, that came along later.

    Well it's a good thing that we're not in Lodge, then! However, fair point, I agree that we also shouldn't get involved in furious rows in forums.

    There's actually a fair volume of non-operative references in the years running up to 1717, but the record does get sparse when we try to look further back. By far the richest source of pre-1717 information is Scotland rather than England, because the Scottish rules (under the Schaw Statute of 1599) required Lodges to keep Minutes, whilst there was no such rule in England. The most amazing records are the Minutes of the Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary's Chapel) #1 of the GL of Scotland, which still possesses continuous minutes from 1599 through to today (!) No other Lodge anywhere has a record like this. At the start of the Minutes, the Lodge is a wholly operative body of stonemasons, and meetings are entirely concerned with trade matters and so on. Then over the first half of the 1600s, a few non-operatives join, but the Lodge is still basically operative. Then over the second half of the 1600s, non-operatives join in increasing numbers, until around the end of the century the speculatives predominate, and not long after the operatives fade out of the picture (not because they're pushed away, but simply because major building projects in stone ceased around that time, everyone was using brick instead). A unique record in which you can actually see the transition happen.

    T & F,

    Huw
     
  17. JTM

    JTM "Just in case" Premium Member

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    you really don't recognize the similarities between masonry and the dyonesian mysteries? they are entirely too similar.

    furthermore, as far as is my knowledge of masonry, there is a single degree within a single appendant body within AF&AM masonry in texas than requires a man to defend the christian faith, and thensofar only to defend it, not necessarily believe in it.
     
  18. owls84

    owls84 Moderator Premium Member

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    Wow I read all of this and now I am getting sleepy head.

    [​IMG]
     
  19. JTM

    JTM "Just in case" Premium Member

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    yea, we've beat the hell out of this horse in the sanctum. no worries, it's always a new discussion with new ideas from new folks. fun times.
     
  20. Huw

    Huw Guest

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    Hi JTM.

    In the sense of being initiatic systems with closed rituals and obligated secrets and so on, yes. The history of the world is full of such systems, but they're not freemasonry.

    In detail, no. I'm not aware of the detailed content of the Dionysian mysteries, and didn't think there was any record of such details. If you can point me to a verified (and translated, please!) copy of their ritual, I'd be fascinated.

    Well, the situation varies in different places. Here in England, we don't acknowledge the various additional degrees (except RA only) as being within AF&AM masonry at all, we regard them as wholly independent.

    However, we have many additional masonic degrees in England which explicitly require the Christian faith (and specify belief, not just willingness to defend) and have always done so. That's also true in Scotland and Ireland, and in quite a lot of other places too.

    I guess the one you're talking about in TX is KT. KT was originally explicitly Christian, and over here it still is, but in the US the Christian requirement was removed in the same way as Christian requirements had earlier been removed for the Craft itself. Even in TX, there exist other additional Orders which do require explicit Christian belief, although they're less well-known than the KT - such as RCC, SRCF and ROS, for example.

    T & F,

    Huw
     

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