In this installment of Symbols & Symbolism, we look at a reading from Albert G. Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, on the infamously nefarious figure of Baphomet – the alleged false idol of the Knights Templar and one of the key instruments of their undoing by Pope Clement.
The imaginary idol, or, rather, symbol which the Knights Templars were accused of employing in their mystic rights. The forty-second of the charges preferred against them by Pope Clement is in these words:
Item quod ipsi per singulas provincias habeant idola: videlicet capita quorum aliqua habebant tres facies, et alia unum: et aliqua cranium humanum habebant.
Also, that in all of the provinces they have idols,namely, heads, of which some had three faces, some one, and some had a human skull.
Von Hammer, a bitter enemy of the Templars, in his book entitled The Mystery of Baphomet Revealed, revived this old accusation, and attached to the Baphomet an impious signification. He derived the name from the Greek words, Baph (βάπτισμα) – baptism, and μhtis (σοφία) – wisdom, and thence supposed that it represented the admission of the initiated into the secret mysteries of the Order. From this gratuitous assumption he deduces his theory, set forth even m the very title of his work, that the Templars were convicted, by their own monuments, of being guilty as Gnostics and Ophites of apostasy, idolatry, and impurity. Of this statement he offers no other historical testimony than the Articles of Accusation, themselves devoid of proof, but through which the Templars were made the victims of the jealousy of the Pope and the avarice of the King of France.
Others again have thought that they could find in Baphomet a corruption of Mahomet (Mohammed), and hence they have asserted that the Templars had been perverted from their religious faith by the Saracens, with whom they had so much intercourse, sometimes as foes and sometimes as friends. Nicolai, who wrote an Essay on the Accusations brought against the Templars, published at Berlin, in 1782, supposes, but doubtingly, that the figure of the Baphomet, figura Baffometi, which was depicted on a bust representing the Creator, was nothing else but the Pythagorean pentagon, the symbol of health and prosperity, borrowed by the Templars from the Gnostics, who in turn had obtained it from the School of Pythagoras.
King, in his learned work on the Gnostics, thinks that the Baphomet may have been a symbol of the Manicheans, with whose wide spreading heresy in the Middle Ages he does not doubt that a large portion of the inquiring spirits of the Temple had been intoxicated.
Amid these conflicting views, all merely speculative, it will not be uncharitable or unreasonable to suggest that the Baphomet, or skull of the ancient Templars, was, like the relic of their modern Masonic representatives, simply an impressive symbol teaching the lesson of mortality, and that the latter has really been derived from the former.
“Freestone as it comes out of the of the quarry.” – Bailey. In Speculative Masonry we adopt the ashlar in two different states, in the Apprentice’s Degree.
The Rough Ashlar, or stone in its rude and unpolished condition, is emblematic of man in his natural state – ignorant, uncultivated, and vicious. But when education has exerted its wholesome influence in expanding his intellect, restraining his passions, and purifying his life, he then is represented by the Perfect Ashlar, which, under the skillful hands of the workmen, has been smoothed, and squared, and fitted for its place in the building. In the older lectures of the eighteenth century the Perfect Ashlar is not mentioned, but its place was supplied by the Broached Thurnel.
From Albert G. Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, this installment of Symbols & Symbolism presents his exploration of the All-Seeing Eye. Note, some links have been added as reference to the original quoted sources.
An important symbol of the Supreme Being, borrowed by the Freemasons from the nations of antiquity. Both the Hebrews and the Egyptians appear to have derived its use from that natural inclination of figurative minds to select an organ as the symbol of the function which it is intended peculiarly to discharge. Thus, the foot was often adopted as the symbol of swiftness, the arm of strength, and the hand of fidelity. On the same principle, the open eye was selected as the symbol of watchfulness, and the eye of God as the symbol of Divine watchfulness and care of the universe. The use of the symbol in this sense is repeatedly to be found in the Hebrew writers. Thus, the Psalmist says
The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry (Palms 34:15),
which explains a subsequent passage (Psalms 121.4), in which it is said:
Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
Then Moses said to the Lord 0 Lord dost thou sleep or not? The Lord said unto Moses, I never sleep: but take a cup and fill it with water. Then Moses took a cup and filled it with water, as the Lord commanded him. Then the Lord cast into the heart of Moses the breath of slumber; so he slept, and the cup fell from his hand, and the water which was therein was spilled. Then Moses awoke from his sleep. Then said God to Moses, I declare by my power, and by my glory, that if I were to withdraw my providence from the heavens and the earth, for no longer a space of time than thou hast slept, they would at once fall to ruin and confusion, like as the cup fell from thy hand.
On the same principle, the Egyptians represented Osiris, their chief deity, by the symbol of an open eye, and placed this hieroglyphic of him in all their temples. His symbolic name, on the monuments, was represented by the eye accompanying a throne, to which was sometimes added an abbreviated figure of the god, and sometimes what has been called a hatchet, but which may as correctly be supposed to be a representation of a square.
The All-Seeing Eye may then be considered as a symbol of God manifested in his omnipresence-his guardian and preserving character – to which Solomon alludes in the Book of Proverbs, 15.3, when he says:
The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding (or, as in the Revised Version, keeping watch upon) the evil and the good.
From Albert G. Mackey and his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, this installment of Symbols & Symbolism presents his exploration of the Broken Column. Note, some links have been added as reference to the original quoted sources.
Among the Hebrews, columns, or pillars, were used metaphorically to signify princes or nobles, as if they were the pillars of a state . Thus, in Psalm 11:3, the passage, reading in our translation: If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? is, in the original, when the columns are overthrown, I.E..: when the firm supporters of what is right and good have perished.
So the passage in Isaiah 19:10 should read: her (Egypt’s) columns are broken down*, that is, the nobles of her state.
In Freemasonry, the broken column is, as Master Masons well know, the emblem of the fall of one of the chief supporters of the Craft. The use of the column or pillar as a monument erected over a tomb was a very ancient custom, and was a very significant symbol of the character and spirit of the person interred. It is accredited to Jeremy L. Cross (from the Masonic Chart) that he first introduced the Broken Column into the ritual, but this may not be true.
From Albert G. Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, this installment of Symbols & Symbolism presents his exploration of the mystical properties of the Acacia. Note, some links have been added as reference to the original quoted sources. Look for future installments on Symbols & Symbolism here, and on YouTube.
From the Encyclopedia:
An interesting and important symbol in Freemasonry. Botanically, it is the acacia vera of Tournefort, and the mimosa nilotica of Tinneus, called babul tree in India. It grew abundantly in the vicinity of Jerusalem, where it is still to be found, and is familiar in its modern use as the tree from which the gum arabic of commerce is derived.
Oliver, it is true, says that “there is not the smallest trace of any tree of the kind growing so far north as Jerusalem” (Landm.,ii.,149); but this statement is refuted by the authority of Lieutenant Lynch, who saw it growing in great abundance in Jericho, and still farther north . (Official Report of the United States of America to Explore the Dead Sea and the River Jordan by Lieutenant W. F. Lynch, U.S.N) The Rabbi Yehoseph Schwarz, who is excellent authority, says : “The Acacia (Shittim) tree, Al Bunt, is found in Palestine of different varieties ; it looks like the Mulberry tree, attains a great height, and has a hard wood . The gum which is obtained from it is the gum arabic .” (Descriptive Geography and Historical Sketch of Palestine, p308, Leeser’s translation. Phila., 1850) Schwarz was for sixteen years a resident of Palestine, and wrote from personal observation. The testimony of Lynch and Schwarz should, therefore, forever settle the question of the existence of the acacia in Palestine.
The acacia is called in the Bible Shittim, which is really the plural of Shittah, which last form occurs once only in Isaiah 41:19. It was esteemed a sacred wood among the Hebrews, and of it Moses was ordered to make the tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, the table for the shewbread, and the rest of the sacred furniture. (Exodus 25-27) Isaiah, in recounting the promises of God’s mercy to the Israelites on their return from the captivity, tells them that, among other things, he will plant in the wilderness, for their relief and refreshment, the cedar, the acacia (or, as it is rendered in our common version, the shittah), the fir, and other trees.
The first thing, then, that we notice in this symbol of the acacia, is that it had been always consecrated from among the other trees of the forest by the sacred purposes to which it was devoted. By the Jew, the tree from whose wood the sanctuary of the tabernacle and the Holy Ark had been constructed would ever be viewed as more sacred than ordinary trees. The early Masons, therefore, very naturally appropriated this hallowed plant to the equally sacred purpose of a symbol, which was to teach an important divine truth in all ages to come. Having thus briefly disposed of the natural history of this plant, we may now proceed to examine it in its symbolic relations.
First, the acacia, in the mythic system of Freemasonry, is preeminently the symbol of the IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL – that important doctrine which it is the great design of the Institution to teach. As the evanescent nature of the flower, which “cometh forth and is cut down,” reminds us of the transitory nature of human life, so the perpetual renovation of the evergreen plant, which uninterruptedly presents the appearance of youth and vigor: is aptly compared to that spiritual life in which the soul, freed from the corruptible companionship of the body, shall enjoy an eternal spring and an immortal youth. Hence, in the impressive funeral service of our Order, it is said that “this evergreen is an emblem of our faith in the immortality of the soul. By this we are reminded that we have an immortal part within us, which shall survive the grave, and which shall never, never, never die.” And again, in the closing sentences of the monitorial lecture of the Third Degree, the same sentiment is repeated, and we are told that by “the ever-green and ever-living sprig ” the Mason is strengthened” with confidence and composure to look forward to a blessed immortality.” Such an interpretation of the symbol is an easy and a natural one; it suggests itself at once to the least reflective mind; and consequently, in some one form or another, is to be found existing in all ages and nations. It was an ancient custom-which is not, even now, altogether disused-for mourners to carry in their hands at funerals a sprig of some evergreen, generally the cedar or the cypress, and to deposit it in the grave of the deceased. According to Dalcho,* the Hebrews always planted a sprig of the acacia at the head of the grave of a departed friend. [John] Potter tells us that the ancient Greeks “had a custom of bedecking tombs with herbs and flowers.”‡ All sorts of purple and white flowers were acceptable to the dead, but principally the amaranth and the myrtle. The very name of the former of these plants, which signifies “never fading,” would seem to indicate the true symbolic meaning of the usage, although archaeologists have generally supposed it to be simply an exhibition of love on the part of the survivors. Ragon says that the ancients substituted the acacia for all other plants because they believed it to be incorruptible, and not liable to injury from the attacks of any kind of insect or other animal-thus symbolizing the incorruptible nature of the soul.
Hence we see the propriety of placing the sprig of acacia, as an emblem of immortality, among the symbols of that degree, all of whose ceremonies are intended to teach us the great truth that “the life of man, regulated by morality, faith, and justice, will be rewarded at its closing hour by the prospect of Eternal Bliss.”≠ So, therefore, says Dr. Oliver, when the Master Mason exclaims “my name is Acacia,” it is equivalent to saying, “I have been in the grave – I have triumed over it by rising from the dead-and being regenerated in the process, I have a claim to life everlasting.” (See Landmarks, ii.,151, note 27)
The sprig of acacia, then, in its most ordinary signification, presents itself to the Master Mason as a symbol of the immortality of the soul, being intended to remind him, by its ever-green and unchanging nature, of that better and spiritual part within us, which, as an emanation from the Great Architect of the Universe, can never die. And as this is the most ordinary, the most generally accepted signification, so also is it the most important; for thus, as the peculiar symbol of immortality, it becomes the most appropriate to an Order all of whose teachings are intended to inculcate the great lesson that “life rises out of the grave.” But incidental to this the acacia has two other interpretations which are well worthy of investigation.
Secondly, then, the acacia is a symbol of INNOCENCE. The symbolism here is of a peculiar and unusual character, depending not on any real analogy in the form or use of the symbol to the idea symbolized, but simply on a double or compound meaning of the word. For ακακία in the Greek language, signifies both the pant in question and the moral quality of innocence or purity of life. In this sense the symbol refers, primarily, to him over whose solitary grave the acacia was planted, and whose virtuous conduct, whose integrity of life and fidelity to his trusts have ever been presented as patterns to the craft, and consequently to all Master Masons, who, by this interpretation of the symbol, are invited to emulate his example.
Hutchinson, indulging in his favorite theory of Christianizing Masonry, when he comes to this signification of the symbol, thus enlarges on the interpretation:
We Masons, describing the deplorable estate of religion under the Jewish law, speak in figures: ‘Her tomb was in the rubbish and filth cast forth of the temple, and ACACIA wove its branches over her monument;’ ακακία being the Greek word for innocence, or being free from sin; implying that the sins and corruptions of the old law, and devotees of the Jewish altar, had hid religion from those who sought her, and she was only to be found where INNOCENCE survived, and under the banner of the divine Lamb ; and as to ourselves professing that we were to be distinguished by our ACACY, or as true ACACIANs in our religious faith and tenets.†
But, lastly, the acacia is to be considered as the symbol of INITIATION. This is by far the most interesting of its interpretations, and was, we have every reason to believe, the primary and original; the others being but incidental.
It leads us at once to the investigation of the significant fact that in all the ancient initiations and religious mysteries there was some plant peculiar to each, which was consecrated by its own esoteric meaning, and which occupied an important position in the celebration of the rites, so that the plant, whatever it might be, from its constant and prominent use in the ceremonies of initiation, came at length to be adopted as the symbol of that initiation.
Thus, the lettuce was the sacred plant which assumed the place of the acacia in the mysteries of Adonis. (See Lettuce) The lotus was that of the Brahmanical rites of India, and from them adopted by the Egyptians. (See Lotus) The Egyptians also revered the erica or heath; and the mistletoe was a mystical plant among the Druids. (See Erica and Mistletoe) And, lastly the myrtle performed the same office of symbolism in the mysteries of Greece that the lotus did in Egypt or the mistletoe among the Druids. (See Myrtle)
In all of these ancient mysteries, while the sacred plant was a symbol of initiation, the initiation itself was symbolic of the resurrection to a future life, and of the immortality of the soul . In this view, Freemasonry is to us now in the place of the ancient initiations, and the acacia is substituted for the lotus, the erica, the ivy, the mistletoe, and the myrtle. The lesson of wisdom is the same – the medium of imparting it is all that has been changed.
Returning, then, to the acacia, we find that it is capable of three explanations. It is a symbol of immortality, of innocence, and of initiation. But these three significations are closely connected, and that connection must be observed, if we desire to obtain a just interpretation of the symbol. Thus, in this one symbol, we are taught that in the initiation of life, of which the initiation in the Third Degree is simply emblematic, innocence must for a time lie in the grave, at length, however, to be called, by the word of the Great Master of the Universe, to a blissful immortality. Combine with this the recollection of the place where the sprig of acacia was planted – Mount Calvary – the place of sepulcher of him who “brought life and immortality to light,” and who, in Christian Masonry, is designated, as he is in Scripture, as “the lion of the tribe of Judah” ; and remember, too, that in the mystery of his death, the wood of the cross takes the place of the acacia, and in this little and apparently insignificant symbol, but which is really and truly the most important and significant one in Masonic science, we have a beautiful suggestion of all the mysteries of life and death, of time and eternity, of the present and of the future.
* “This custom among the Hebrews arose from this circumstance . Agreeably to their laws, no dead bodies were allowed to be interred within the walls of the City ; and as the Cohens, or Priests, were prohibited from crossing a grave, it was necessary to place marks thereon, that they might avoid them. For this purpose the Acasia was used.” (Dalcho, 2nd Oration, p . 23, note)
Another circumstance, my Brethren, I beg leave to recall to your recollection. It is the spring of Cassia, as it is generally termed in our Lodges, where we speak of its strong scent, &c. Cassia, my Brethren, did not grow about Jerusalem. It is an alteration of the word Acasia, the Mimosa Nilotica of Linnæus, belonging to the 23d class and 1sr order, Polygamia Monæcia, of his system. This shrub grew there in abundance, and from the habit arising from an indispensable custom among the Hebrews, a branch was broken off from a neighboring bush, and placed where the Fellow-Crafts fond it, who, perceiving it to be withered, when all around flourished in perfection, they were led to draw those conclusions which we teach in our Lodges.
*These customs among the Hebrews arouse from this circumstance. Agreeably to their laws, no dead bodies were allowed to be interred within the walls of the City; and as the Cohens, or Priests, were prohibited from crossing a grave, it is necessary to place marks thereon, that they might avoid them. For this purpose the Acasia was used.
It is further mentioned in the report of the Inspectors, that some knowledge of the Talmud is necessary to enable us to understand some of our ceremonies. It is so, my respectable Brethren, and to which they might have added, some knowledge, also, of the mysteries of the Cabala. That expressive mystic figure, of the Divinity, formed in the Fellow-Craft’s degree, constitutes, in the Hebrew language, the word Shaday, Omnipotent.
In the Sublime degrees, it is elegantly illustrated.* From these, and many other, errors which have unfortunately crept into the Blue degrees, it must be evident, that it is necessary, that a man of science should preside over a Lodge, that the true ceremonies and principles of the mystic Craft, may be taught in language, which will bear the test of criticism.
I object to the reason assigned by Dalcho, but of the existence of the custom there can be no question, notwithstanding the denial or doubt of Dr. Oliver . Blount (A Voyage into the Levant, p. 197) says, speaking of the Jewish burial customs, “those who bestow a marble stone over any [gravel have a hole a yard long and a foot broad, in which they plant an evergreen, which seems to grow from the body and is carefully watched.”
Hasselquist (Travels, p . 28) confirms his testimony. I borrow the citations from Brown (Antiquities of the Jews, vol . ii ., p. 356), but have verified the reference to Hasselquist. The work of Blount I have not been enabled to consult.
Yes, Freemasonry Is Religion, And Is Incompatible With Some Christian Beliefs. Here’s Why.
I’ve been a Freemason for only about four years, but I’ve already done a lot of changing in my views. One view I used to have, which I think most first years have is that Freemasonry and Christianity are totally compatible.
Oh the many internet arguments we enter, arguing “no, we don’t have a problem with Catholics, but the Catholic Church has a problem with us,” and “Evangelical Christianity is perfectly compatible with Freemasonry.” These kind of skirmishes happen all the time. And then there’s the biggest trope in all of Masondom: Freemasonry is not a religion.
This is all, of course, entirely from our point of view. We are an open, welcoming, tolerant fraternity, and we search for the connections that bind each other together, and not the dividers that keep us apart. Tolerance is a cornerstone of freemasonry, so it’s naturally abhorrent to us to be dragged into any argument that certain sects should be excluded. And I think this is entirely true, but that is from my point of view; the point of view of a guy who thinks he’s totally right.
In all fairness, though, whether freemasonry is compatible with certain religions isn’t only up to us. Many practitioners of those religions make great points. I’ve even got some favorites.
Freemasonry distracts you from God, taking time away from your family, and your worship, and that is Satan’s work.
There are certainly men who have utterly lost themselves in Freemasonry, and it hurts their families. One only knows what it does to the man’s personal relationship with his creator. But then the same thing is easily said about any activity. People lose themselves in hobbies when they seek distractions. I’ve even seen people lose themselves in their church; so focused on the inner workings, the politics, jazzing up the service, being on the lighting committee, etc, and they eventually wonder where God went in all is this. This is not a problem with freemasonry. It’s a problem with people, and one freemasonry actually attempts to remedy in its earliest instruction to new brethren. We come right out and say: divide your time correctly, keeping time for God, family, work, etc. And that freemasonry never comes first. Ever.
The things you do in lodge are things you should be doing in church.
Well, woulda, coulda, shoulda. And feel free to, if you like. Nothing says you can’t flip hotcakes for your lodge on Saturday and waffles for your church on Sunday. And nothing says you can’t focus on being a better man in lodge and in church. A little double coverage never hurt anyone.
The teachings don’t contradict, and should you find a contradiction, masonry insists you side with the obligations to God, family, and to yourself before you ever consider your lodge.
Masons seek light, but the Bible tells us that Jesus is the light and the way.
Right, but in freemasonry, spoiler alert, the light is the Volume of Sacred Law, which, if you’re a Christian, is the Bible. It will be sitting there, open, on the altar. And I’m personally not a Christian, but I’m pretty sure Jesus is in there. Somewhere in the back, I believe.
Now, that’s all well and good, but these are not things I can dictate. If you, as a Christian, or are of some other faith, and you don’t find these explanations convincing, that just fine. I would say that you are in the minority of your faith, but that you have a point of view, and you have legitimate practical concerns about freemasonry. Compatibility is, I suppose, a matter of educated opinion. I would not say your faith is incompatible with freemasonry.
There are some views that are completely incompatible with freemasonry. I will let the Christians argue among themselves whether these views are legitimately Christian, but there is some grist we just won’t grind.
If you have a problem with the tolerance off freemasonry, then there’s a legitimate problem here. I got into a discussion recently with a Christian whose argument against freemasonry was that his religion taught him he was not to pray with those who practice idolatry, but run from them. In a nutshell, because masons come from all different faiths, but will pray together in lodge, a good Christian can’t be a part of that.
This never happens.
Now I’ve heard probably the most common Christian argument against Freemasonry, mainly given by Catholics; there is one true way to Heaven and that is by accepting Jesus; Masonry essentially teaches that your goodness can get you to Heaven; ergo Masonry is incompatible with Christianity. I could answer that by saying that Masonry doesn’t propose any particular way to get anywhere, and that even if that were the case, one needn’t accept such a premise to join or participate in a lodge. But this prayer thing is something that I’ve never, ever run into before.
I asked this gentleman if he would apply the same standard to a non-denominational public prayer, like at a graduation commencement or some kind of national moment of prayer after a disaster. He would. And…my brain just broke a bit. I realized, not for the first time in my life, that some people–perfectly nice people–are just completely different. And not just in a “same goals but different paths” way. Just. Completely. Different.
Obviously there are only a relative minority of Christians with this notion. But I do, basically, get the idea. I see how the thought can be derived from scripture. It’s a Christian belief, though not a widely held one. And it’s not a belief I’d assign only to Christians. Many faiths have an extremely orthodox element that is utterly intolerant of certain ideas. For instance, the idea that regardless of what gets you into Heaven, and your religion may have very specific requirements, God still wants you to be a good, peaceful, generous person. That’s the kind of wild idea that some religious practitioners reject out of hand.
I really don’t think you can be a freemason and not think that.
If you believe you should run from people practicing different faiths, rather than stand with them as you each pray to Deity for peace and harmony, then no, I really don’t think that is compatible with freemasonry.
Worse yet, I don’t think that’s compatible with the American Way, because much like the masons, America is founded on the idea of tolerance, and from many–one. If this is a closely-held belief you espouse, then you have to admit to yourself that America, in its very founding principles, is doing it wrong.
Religion is a lot of things to a lot of people, and I’m not going to define it for you, but it’s certainly easy to see why so many non-freemasons see it as a religion. There is an awful lot of crossover, here. Masonry doesn’t tell you what god to pray to, it doesn’t teach you how to get to Heaven, but it does teach you that being a good, honest, just person is morally and spiritually valuable, and it does teach you how to be that. And that altar in the middle of the lodge room floor is the Altar of God. And I’m hardly the only mason who has said this. There’s a beautiful passage in a Masonic play, A Rose Upon the Altar.
Freemasonry, my brother, is, truly, not a religion. But it is religion–religion in its truest, purest sense. We don’t worship a God here–we worship the Great Architect. We have His word for it–inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it to me. At this Altar…good men and true worship their Creator. At this Altar the sore distressed find comfort. Around this Altar glows the Shekinah, the heavenly light from Him to whom it is erected, for those who have eyes to see. The Divine Presence is here! This Altar is as much a holy of holies as a church. If you want comfort, kneel here and ask for it. If you want aid, here you shall find it. Here is the Book in which the promise is made…come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…This Altar is God’s.
And there it is. I mean, argue if you want. You don’t have to agree. You may even be right. I’m sure I’ll get flack from masons and Christians alike. A Masonic lodge is no substitute for your church or house of worship, and I’d never claim it is. But neither is in, nor any of these, an adequate substitute for the world God has made, or the people he put in it, and religion exists everywhere among us. And it can be practiced everywhere.
I wish more young Masons would put their thoughts on paper. It is vital to us all, especially Freemasons, to know the thoughts and contemplations of those who will follow us.
In today’s article Brother Gallagher seems a bit torn between Masonry as a religion and Masonry as not a religion. That is totally understandable given the history of the Craft and the practice of Freemasonry since the formation of this great nation.
Freemasonry’s biggest problem is that it is so tolerant that it will allow Brothers to remake and transform the Fraternity into the mores and customs of their particular region. That’s how you end up with the Grand Master of Florida expelling two Brothers for not being Christians.
Dr. Fels in the video is equally confused as he tries to walk a tightrope whereby everybody is right and nobody is wrong.
So let us start by looking back at the formation of modern speculative Freemasonry.
A Mason is obliged by his Tenure, to obey the Moral Law, and if he rightly understand the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient times Masons were charged 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 Honour and Honesty, by whatsoever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguished.
The key phrase here is “that religion in which all men agree.” What Anderson is saying here is that Freemasonry agrees with and accepts the tenets that all religions have in common. So it is the tenets that all religions have in common that Freemasonry adopts but not the specific paths of practicing them. This is what Dr. Fels misses.
No specific Holy Book
No ordained clergy
No definition of Deity
No dogma, no creed – that is no ideological doctrine
No means to salvation
The problem enters as to the question of Freemasonry as a religion because there are many religious people in Freemasonry. The Lodge offers prayers but so does my book club, my household at mealtime and Congress before it convenes. Prayer does not make a group a church. Neither does scriptural lessons.
And because Freemasonry accepts the basic tenets of all religions that does not make us some sort of new super amalgamated religion.
If we look at the most widely accepted definition of Freemasonry we can see where we are going wrong.
Masonry is said to be,
a beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.
The key words here are, SYSTEM OF MORALITY. Freemasonry is a system of morality and when it says that it borrows the religion in which all men agree it is saying that it accepts the same morality that is found over and over again in most religions.
Your religion deals with your relationship with God. Freemasonry deals with your relationship with your fellow human beings.
It is more than coincidental that those who declare that Freemasonry is a religion are those who are not Freemasons. They say they know more about the Craft than those of us who practice Freemasonry.
Once you remove the argument that Freemasonry is a religion and convince those that are criticizing it from a religious viewpoint that it is merely a society then you remove all possibility of a religious objection to it. If Freemasonry is not a religion than it cannot be criticized as one. And that stops the bitter resentment and ridiculous attacks on the Craft. Well not quite. You still have to prove that Freemasonry does not want to take over the world.
Truth be known, Freemasonry makes no ruling about religion. FREEMASONRY MAKES NO RULING ABOUT RELIGION. It’s not for any sectarian religions and it is not against any sectarian religions. FREEMASONRY IS NEUTRAL. It makes no religious rulings nor declares any means to salvation. FREEMASONRY IS NEUTRAL. It is a society of friends devoted to the Brotherhood of man under the Fatherhood of God.
As one site put it:
Freemasonry is kindness in the home; honesty in business; courtesy toward others; dependability in one’s work; compassion for the unfortunate; resistance to evil; help for the weak; concern for good government; support for public education; and above all, a life-practicing reverence for God and love of fellow man.
Joseph James is an actor and filmmaker with a long list of projects with an eye towards the fraternity. Having already produced several films with overt Masonic tones including The Masonic Map and Templar Nation, James is on the cusp of his latest release with his film The Freemason, taking us again into the mysteries upon the silver screen. In this installment of Sojourners, James gives us an insider’s look at the making of his latest Masonic feature, The Freemason, replete with all the tinsel the fraternity can bring to it. Of all his skill and craft, James brings an earnestness to his filmmaking imbuing his work with his love for Freemasonry.
Greg Stewart (GS) – Let’s start with the basics; who is Joseph James? How long have you been a Freemason and what bodies do you belong to?
Joseph James (JJ) – Several of my great grandfathers were Freemasons. When I was about 14, I became interested in Freemasonry and started reading about it. At that time, there was not a lot of information online about how a person could become a Mason, so I didn’t know how to proceed, but it was always something I wanted to do. After growing up in Utah, I moved to Portland about 2004 in order to expand my clothing company. I had a car that needed some repairs. I noticed the mechanic working on my car was wearing a bright blue Masonic ring. It was perfect opportunity for me to ask him if I could become a Mason. He introduced me to one of the oldest and most established lodges in Portland, and I’m now a life time member of that lodge. I joined the Scottish Rite and am now a 32nd Degree Mason. I also joined the Portland Al Kader Shriners and served as the Temple Outer Guard in the Divan before moving to Hollywood with my wife and newborn son. I am a member of multiple lodges in several states, and I am a member of the York Rite and a lifetime member of the Grotto.
GS – If you remember, what initially interested you in the fraternity?
JJ – Besides learning that I had ancestors and relatives who were Masons, I was impressed by the fact that so many great men and leaders were Masons. Men I truly admire, such as the Founding Fathers, great entertainers and philanthropists. I was interested in doing charity work. I also wanted to learn some of the secrets of Freemasonry going back to Solomon’s Temple and the Knights Templar.
GS – Did your ideal of the fraternity prove to be the case upon joining or was it different? What was your initial impression with it?
JJ – Yes, becoming a Mason was just as enlightening and challenging as I thought it would be.
My initial impression was very positive. My mentors were a 33rd Degree Masons named Bill Larson, Clyde Brown and Webber Harrington (all of them have since passed away). Clyde and Webber were also members of the Grand Cross Court of Honor. Larson was one of the only members in Portland who knew all 3 Lectures given during initiation. He challenged me to learn them. I was able to memorize the EA and Master Mason degree. Bill and I did the lectures together for many candidates. Everything I learned from Bill and the other Masons fortified my positive feelings towards Freemasonry.
GS – I’ve known you for some time (back to the MySpace days of social media I’m guessing), and back when you made a run on a reality TV program. Since then what have you had going on? Every now and then I’d see you pop up on line working on one project or another, so it’s obvious to me you’ve made it to some degree. How is it you came to make your new film, The Freemason?
JJ – I really enjoyed performing as an actor in the 32 degrees of the Scottish Rite. People I worked with told me that I was a good actor and that I should consider trying to pursue a career in that field. I auditioned for a film called Extraordinary Measures, which was being shot locally in the Portland area, and I booked a role as a background actor. I was in several scenes with Brendan Fraser. That’s when I decided to become an actor. My wife and I packed up everything we owned in a U-Haul and headed to Hollywood with our newborn son. In Hollywood, I landed small roles in everything from feature films to live television, short films, TV pilots and reality TV. Working on set for up to 15 hours a day convinced me that I wanted to produce feature films and be an actor as well. Utah has a great movie history, going back to the classic westerns of John Wayne up until today’s Sundance Film festival.
Since I grew up in Utah, I knew that every kind of landscape and terrain is available to film makers at a fraction of the cost of a Hollywood production. So my family and I moved back to Utah, and I started working on my first film, The Masonic Map. I wrote, directed and starred in that film. In my second film, called Templar Nation, I hired a professional screenwriter and two experienced actors, Erik Estrada (Chips) and local actor Richard Dutcher (God’s Army). I was able to hire Sean Astin to work on my latest film, The Freemason. I funded all of the films myself and I have employed hundreds of amazing, talented professional here in Utah.
GS – So what was your driving motivation behind making this film?
JJ – I wanted to create the most comprehensive, in depth film about Masonry ever made. I wanted to show as much of an actual initiation in a real Masonic lodge as possible. I wanted to share with the world some of what Freemasonry is really about. We were able to film much of the movie in the historic Salt Lake City Masonic Temple, in the actual initiation rooms. I want public and potential candidates to break through the barrier of uncertainty and join. Most of them do not know that we cannot solicit new members, therefore thousands of potential Masons never join simply because the don’t know how.
Some of the of the most influential Freemasons here in the U.S have seen the film and feel that every Mason should see this film as well as people who are considering joining.
GS – I found it interesting, the elements you put into the movie. Do you think it went too deeply into the “secrets” of Masonry?
JJ – Bill Larson (a well-respected 33rd Degree who delivered the E.A, F.C. And M.M degree for many years ) taught me that the two most important things we must never reveal: the tokens and the passwords. The parts of the ritual we show in the film are compelling but incomplete–the entire ritual is not shown. I believe our non-mason audience is very curious about our initiation rituals as well as the 32 degrees in the Scottish Rite.
We were respectful but tantalizing, so that anyone with a true interest in Masonry would learn just enough to want to learn more.
I admit that we also dipped into some of the speculation we’ve all heard about Masons influence regarding politics, banking, the military, law enforcement as well as wealthy business owners etc, as a dramatic tool. I feel like we didn’t say anything that is not true or anything that would leave a bad or incorrect impression of Masonry. The feedback I’ve gotten from Masons all over the world that have heard about the film or seen the trailer gives me confidence that we found the right balance between showing too much and not enough.
GS – I like the quick abstract in the film of the history of Masonry is when Cyrus and Detective Leon Weed (actors Randy Wayne and Sean Astin) are reconstructing the crime scene. Their exchange almost feels poetic when talking about the fraternity. Where did that come from?
JJ – Sean Astin gets the credit for that. We were at a warehouse shooting [the scene] from the original script. Sean said that he [had] a great scene in his mind and that we needed to write it out and film it before the end of the day. He wanted to know more about the initiation so that we could help the general public understand the initiation ritual more clearly. He told me to go buy a book about the initiation, so I drove to a local bookstore and bought a copy of a book that revealed some of the ritual but it did not cross the line. He and I then wrote out that scene in 2 hours, filmed it and added it to the film. I will never forget a quote from the director of photography, Thor Wixom, after the scene he said “that is now my favorite scene in the movie”.
In writing that scene, Sean wanted to help non-Masons understand the physical orientation of the rooms in the Masonic Temple and what that meant. He also wanted to express the strength of the Masonic vows when there is a reference to being killed if you reveal sacred information. And also, there is an element of Cyrus beginning to catch on to the real motive for the murder.
GS – Later on in the film, Cyrus and the Grand Master have an exchange that really dramatized the power of the 2b1ask1 proposition. What was the thought behind it?
JJ – That came out of my experience becoming a Mason.
Most people think that the Masons recruit people or that you have to have a family member vouch for you. Some people also believe that you have to be a certain type of person (successful or wealthy) to become a mason. No one seems to believe how simple it can be, as simple as asking. I do believe that when people realize that, it may lead them to do as the film says: Ask One. And from there they may become Masons.
GS – It feels like you came at many of the issues of Masonry, even the notion of women Freemasons as Rana (playd by Alex McKenna), the daughter of a Mason, having resentment (almost an implied jealousy) over his activity in it. In a broader stroke, it feels in many ways that you encapsulated the process of the beginning, middle and end of becoming a Mason, even as it’s interjected into the plot lines. It really feels like a part of the story. Did that take a lot of time to construct? How did you go about weaving the two together (the story and the Masonic ritual elements)?
JJ – We wanted make sure people understand what critical role women have in Freemasonry. For instance, there are Women’s only branches of Freemasonry such as The White Shrine, Jobs Daughters, The Bethel etc. These organizations do a lot of charity work and they have their own initiation ceremonies as well. I have also talked to people who are involved in Co-Masonry which has both women and men as members. The famous statement, “behind every good man is a good woman” When I was in the Divan for the Portland Shriners, the women were just as organized and effective at raising money for the Shriners Hospital as well as coordinating events and running the day to day operations for Blue Lodges, The Scottish Rite and The Shrine.
GS – Without giving anything away, the end takes a distinct and dark turn. I have to say it was almost disturbing given the sentiment it encapsulated. Was that the end you had in mind when you started shooting?
JJ – The ending in script and the ending we decided to go with were different.
There was a district difference but If I elaborate on it so much it might reveal to much about the plot. The final scene was also written by Sean and me the night before we shot it. Sean and I wrote it during an all-nighter after we had already completed a 12 hour workday. He called me to his hotel and we sat up all night talking about it, acting it out, working it over and over again…At 5 am we were both exhausted mentally and physically. However, the final scene was not finished yet. We needed to eat, so we went to a local Denny’s at 5 am, and there we were, Sean typing furiously on his laptop as customers walked past and looked him over, no doubt wondering, “Is that Sean Astin, and what the hell is he doing at Denny’s in Salt Lake City at 5 am?”
After we finished eating the new ending was finished. The sun was up and went back to the set to work another 15 hours with out any sleep. But it was worth it. Most of the people who have seen the film think that ending is not only shocking but it also it ties everything together giving it a sense of closure. The feedback we have receive is that Sean’s performance is authentic and stunning. If I give any more details than that it might reveal the plot. We also shot the original ending which will be available on our “Extra Bonus Features” along with some special features and a 30 minute behind the scenes look at the making of the movie.
GS – I have to ask, did Astin (or anyone on the set) express any interest in the fraternity as the film wrapped?
JJ – Yes, there were many inquiries. By the end of the film, most of the cast and the crew were much more interested in Freemasonry and wanted to know more. Sean said that he wants to continue to learn more and more about who we are.
GS – When you made the film, did you start your own production company or did you fire them to produce and make the film?
JJ – Each time I make a new film I start a new production company.
GS – Where any of the other actors or production folks Freemasons?
JJ – Yes, my friend Howard drove all the way in from Montana to help with the production. He was there during my initiation in Portland, Oregon. There were also several other Masons on the cast and the crew that helped along the way but primarily the cast and crew were professionals who make movies for a living.
GS – Let’s pull out to a wider shot, what do you see as the potential of Masonry in film?
JJ – I’m hoping that it emerges as a worldwide foundational film that can unite brothers from various countries. I will be dubbing it into different languages so that people who do not speak English can still watch it. I also see the potential for the people who want join to watch it and gain a deeper understanding if the principles and history that have kept Freemasons around the world connected for a greater cause such as charity work as well as preserving history that could possible go back as far as Solomon’s a Temple in Jerusalem. Freemasonry is a force for good in the world and I hope that people who see the film will recognize that the movie explains and defines what Masons stand for.
GS – I’ve always had half dozen ideas on quasi-Masonic stories or scripts in my head. Do you think there is subgenre of movies waiting to be made about Freemasonry?
JJ – Yes, the history channel and the discovery channel etc. have put together some solid documentaries and re-enactments of Masonic history as well as the Knights Templar who were almost eliminated under false pretenses on Friday the 13th, 1307. Many of our founding fathers were 3 dimensional, intelligent people whose lives were greatly influenced, but not controlled by masonry.
GS – Do they always need to be the protagonist, or is there space for them to be the antagonist too?
JJ – Nobody is perfect, we all make mistakes, and certainly not every man who is a mason has lived up to the highest standards we set for ourselves. Certainly, some have used their knowledge, prestige or influence improperly, or even in a bad way. Any organization with millions of members across the globe will always people who are not contributing positive actions and who are not helping their organization in any way.
Regarding a 90 page script for a feature film, the story is not going to be very interesting or complete without opposition to the protagonist, and certainly that opposition can come from a Mason. I don’t think we can all be painted with the same brush, either good or bad. Mason are all individuals, and we are all “rough ashlars” trying to become “perfect ashlars”. It is a lifelong journey. I am definitely a rough ashlar, however I am always attempting to become closer to a perfect ashlar even though it is not possible.
GS – What are your thoughts about Freemasonry seeping into television programs such as Sleepy Hollow or Vanished (2006)? From your perspective, is this a good thing for Freemasonry?
JJ – One of reasons I decided to make movies about our Fraternity is because there have been false allegations, myths and outright lies about who we are and what we stand for. It has been that way for hundreds and possibly thousands of years. I think that Freemasonry has been portrayed in negative light in books, movies, and TV shows for a long time it will continue. The reason why is because to truly understand Freemasonry you have to experience it and meet the Masons who run our lodges and temples, [the people who] raise millions of dollars for charities and who are normal, average people who enjoy helping other and connecting with new friends, business associates and others with the same goals preserving our history and while moving forward into future.
One thing that does concern me a little is that movies always have elements to them that are not real and in most cases, the Freemason are a prime target for others to speculate without evidence and portray our organization in way that is simply inaccurate. There will always be some distortion regarding what we as masons are really about.
GS – So what’s next? Where can we find the Freemason when it’s released?
JJ – The film was just released as an “Exclusive Pre-Worldwide Release” so that the supporters and fans who have been waiting for months can be some of the first people in the world to own the DVD.
The film will also be released on iTunes, Hulu, Amazon, Vimeo on Demand, and possible Netfilx and Redbox. For now, the best way to order the DVD is to go to our website www.thefreemasonmovie.com where we also have special deals on full size theatrical posters, a 30 min “Behind The Scenes” with bonus features including deleted scenes and trailers, sn interview with Sean Astin, Richard Dutcher (Grandmaster Sheldon Lombard) and myself.
GS – Will it play in any theaters that we could come an see it?
JJ – The film was in theaters for a short time. Now we are having public and private screenings for any group or organization interested. Interested parties can contact me directly at email@example.com
GS – Any guesses for when we can expect it on the online providers?
We have just made the movie available on Vimeo OnDemand, iTunes, and the DVD can be purchased through thefreemasonmovie.com or on Amazon. A link to the Vimeo OnDemand can be found on our homepage. We’ll be releasing a special edition in the coming weeks that features bonus materials and subtitles.
GS – And lastly, a question I like to ask our sojourners is who or what influences you to do what you do?
JJ – My objective when I started making these films has remained the same the entire time. And that is to simply inform the public about the nobility of our ancient fraternity and to dispel false perceptions.
Big thanks to Joseph for taking the time out to sit down and talk with us about his new film. I watched and liked it and think other people will too. The Freemason is definitely not what you would expect from a Masonic murder mystery and it definitely kept me guessing up to the end. I, for sure, am looking forward to your next project.
Prince Hall Freemasonry, traditionally called “Black” Freemasonry by some, is of direct lineage from the Grand Lodge of England (1717).
The Lodge that Prince Hall and the 14 others were made a Mason in was Lodge No. 441under the Irish Constitution. 1784 is the year that Bro. Hall requested and received a charter from the Grand Lodge of England, making African Lodge No. 459 a subordinate lodge to the Grand Lodge of England.
African Grand Lodge existed until 1847-48, at which time it’s name was changed to the MWPHGL of MA. This is the first recorded instance of his name being used in the GL title. (Thanks to Br. Lilly from the MWPHGL of NC for the keen eye and correction) More on Prince Hall Freemasonry on Wikipedia.
Prince Hall Freemasonry is nearly as widespread as “regular” Freemasonry in the United States. It has grown within many communities as a social institution with a very large following in many cities. The separation of Prince Hall and Regular Freemasonry in America is likely an out-cropping of early ideas of slavery in America, which carried into the Jim Crow laws of the early 20th Century. The backward ideas of separation and unequally, like many institutions, pervaded Freemasonry too, and continued the ideas of separate but equal. With the passage of time, and the implementation of the Plessy vs. Ferguson ruling, the ideas of mixed race meetings and membership has been slow in coming, but it is changing. In-roads were made to visit one another and relations were established.
Today, as the barriers continue to be torn down, the further integration of Prince Hall and regular Freemasonry continues. Granting a full charter in 1996, the Grand Lodge of England finally resolved all the roadblocks for full recognition. All regular state Grand Lodges have eradicated all prohibitions to membership from men of all races, making them open to men of all colors, creeds, and outlook. The only requirement being a proclaimed faith in God. There may be still some apprehension (from both sides) to openly admit that there has been some willing separation, but the invisible walls that have kept many apart are beginning to evaporate.
One of the biggest roadblocks to recognition is ritual differences and practices within a lodge. Freemasonry, being very firm on it’s ritual and it’s conduct, varies from state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so recognition is spotty across the board, but firm locally. Here is a great link to recognition between states.
So what does that mean. Looking at Freemasonry as a whole, it is not a racially biased institution. In my state California, there is full recognition of Prince Hall Freemasonry as being “regular” as decided though Grand Lodge legislation in 1995. Mutual recognition was agreed upon that year “completing the circle that Prince Hall started in 1784.”
There are states that have not reached that same conclusion for their own reasons, none of which I can proclaim knowledge of here. However both Freemasonry and Prince Hall Freemasonry are open to men of all races and welcomes them to share their light. Racism is not tolerated within the body of Freemasonry.
I use this as a preamble to a video published by Masonic Awareness at the Speed of Light. In the video, Charles M. Harper, Sr. introduces and talks about his book, Freemasonry in Black and White which explores the difference between recognition and amity within the confines of Freemasonry – essentially separate but equal bodies coexisting at common cause.
Among subsequent charges up the hill that day Dr. Joseph Warren, Grand Master of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Massachusetts and a Major General was slain. This was a great loss for the Grand Lodge, for Massachusetts and for the Patriots who sought separation from British rule.
The topic of Masonic Music came up recently in a sub reddit forum with the posting of the Grand Leveler video from up and coming artist Apathy. The gist of the discussion came down to what was art, and more particularly, what elevated Masonry in its art.
In one of the exchanges, Mozart’s Magic Flute was used as an exemplary example of the ideas of Masonry elevated in an artistic endeavor.
The argument aside, it made me wonder “How many of today’s Masons have actively sought out the Masonic connections in Mozart’s Great Work, let alone sat down to watch the three hour epic?”
So, not that a Google search wouldn’t facilitate this, here’s your chance.
And, if you need some enticements, I’ve brought in some commentary from just a couple of sources on the opera to give it some context and flavor to induce interest. Interestingly, look for the Vernunft, Weisheit, and Natur over the doors.
And, if the German Aria throws you, here is a German to English translation on what they’re saying.
Both Mozart and the opera’s librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder, were devoted Freemasons, at a time when the Masonic order was frowned upon by the authorities and mistrusted by the public. Its meetings were mysterious to outsiders and the order was believed to be connected to the principles of the Enlightenment, so established political leaders were a little nervous about it. The emperor of Austria even restricted the number of Masonic lodges allowed to operate in the country.
So, while Mozart’s drama fell into the general category of “magic opera” — works based on folk tales, with plenty of stunts, scene changes and spectacular stage effects — it was also a political statement in disguise. Mozart and Schikaneder crammed all kinds of veiled Masonic symbolism into The Magic Flute, and people have been trying to figure the whole thing out for more than 200 years.
Given the story, the numerous symbols and Masonic references, and the musical treatments Mozart employs, it is hard to dispute that Freemasonry played a huge influence over the creation of The Magic Flute. However, it is important not to view the work simply as a Masonic treatise. Much more than that, Freemasonry is used as a foundation stone from which the truly great elements of the opera spring.
So, rather than try and reinvent the wheel and re-explain something so well researched and commented upon already, I suggest rather sitting back and enjoying the Magic Flute in its totality, from this UGA Opera Theater production of The Magic Flute.