Tracing the Generation of the Third Degree

by Adrian T. Taylor, Ph.D.
Founding Member of the David A. McWilliams, Sr. Research & Education Lodge


In the text “Accosting the African Origins of Freemasonry, and Beyond,”[1] this researcher took up the problem of the African/Egyptian origins of Freemasonry.  In the latter text, a representative argument was reviewed, as portrayed by Lanier A. Watkins.[2] In Bro. Watkin’s text, a variety of figures peculiar to members of the Craft were displayed, juxtaposed to similar figures found in ancient Egypt, as we can see in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Images Peculiar to Freemasons[3]

Upon displaying similar figures, it was then contended by Bro. Watkins that “with sufficient evidence it is sensible to suggest that many of the signs used in our modern craft may have their origin in [a] much older African Culture.”[4] Assessing the latter text, this researcher argued that “sufficient evidence” had been crafted to simply “suggest” that Freemasonry “may” have an African origin, given that anyone can effectively suggest anything, no matter a suggestion’s truth-value.  Conversely, this researcher argued that “sufficient evidence” had not been crafted, on the latter grounds, for there to be a definitive/clear African Origins of Freemasonry, beyond a simple suggestion.

Essentially, this researcher argued that Bro. Watkin’s “suggestion” was too permissive, though consequential.  Later, this researcher created a framework for what can count as “sufficient evidence,” to responsibly examine the question: Is there an African Origin of Freemasonry?  Consequently, this researcher constructed Three Stations that needed to be circumambulated, that of (1) The Secret History Station, (2) The Generation of the Ritual Station, and (3) The Egyptian Meaning Station.

In this paper “The Generation of the Ritual Station” will be reviewed.  It will be reviewed focused on tracing the generation of the third degree, in light of the purported similarities between the Legend of Hiram Abiff and the Legend of the Egyptian deity Osiris,[5] as originally portrayed by the Greek, Plutarch (46 – 120 C.E.).[6]

The Generation of the Ritual Station

Ritual and ceremony are nothing new to Freemasonry and society at large.  Ritual and ceremony attempt to buttress and communicate shared values and experiences, over time.  In the Craft, allusions to ritual and ceremony can be traced to the oldest Freemasonic document of record, the Regius Manuscript/poem.  It was written circa 1390 C.E. and is sometimes referred to as the Halliwell manuscript, grouped with the Gothic Constitutions, which traces Freemasonry’s legendary/mythic origins to ancient Egypt.[7] In society, ritual and ceremony are seemingly ubiquitous, ranging from the profane (putting on your Washington Redskins jersey before the big game against the Dallas Cowboys) to the profound (listening to the bride and groom at a wedding ceremony, pledge: “until death do us part!”).

Nonetheless, Freemasonry is distinguished by its “secret” initiatory ritual ceremonies which progress by degrees of instruction.  Traditionally, secrets were kept for proprietary reasons (as vital trade secretes) by the operative stonemasons of Gothic Cathedrals and were communicated orally because much of Europe at that time was illiterate.  Effectively, said ritual ceremonies have been participatory, morality plays, attempting to communicate the core values (e.g. faith, hope and charity) and virtues (e.g. brotherly love, relief and truth) of the Craft.

It is here, in the space of ritual and ceremony, where the problem of the African Origins of Freemasonry arises, particularly focused on the generation of the third degree.  Some essentially see the Legend of Osiris dramatically reworked in the finished Legend of Hiram Abiff.[8] To move beyond a simple suggestion on the African Origins of Freemasonry, towards a negotiation of “sufficient evidence,” we need to (1) trace the genealogy of the third degree, and (2) pay particular attention to the dispensation of Dr. John Theophilus Desaguliers, who according to Dr. David Harris, a Mason, was the key generator of the third degree ritual.[9]

The Genealogy of the Third Degree

When we assess the earliest, operative stonemason records of the Craft, we essentially find a rather straightforward singular ritual and ceremony.  When a man was made a Mason, after, in some instances, at least seven years of apprenticeship, he was read a legendary history of the craft.  Additionally, he was instructed to take an oath of fidelity, with his hands placed on the Bible, before he was recognized as a Fellow of the Craft or an operative Journeyman (both terms denoting a full Mason).

Based on the available evidence, we find that over time the ceremonies became more elaborate, and two degrees emerged.[10] Rooted in British culture and custom, we can find the construction of instructive questions and answers to be committed to memory, new modes of recognition, the creation of terrible pledges of trustworthiness, the communication of various lectures informed by the Bible, and the creation of various symbolic rites.

As the Craft began to change from an operative labor guild (of stone builders) into a speculative society (of moral-character builders), the ceremonies and symbolism began to change.  This gradual change was informed by the decline in palace and cathedral constructing.  It was also a reflection of the renegotiation between faith, reason and the State, rooted in the Renaissance and the Scottish Enlightenment.[11] These changes were eventually reflected in the second degree.  In time, more non-operative masons were freely “accepted” as members and began to replace/dominate the old stonemason guilds.  According to most accounts, Elias Ashmole (hermeticist, alchemist and founding member of the Royal Society) is the first Free and Accepted “speculative” (or philosophical) Mason.  In his diary, Ashmole recorded his “acceptance” into the Craft in 1646, at a tavern in Warrington, England.[12]

Eventually, the Craft changed from a two degree system in 1717 (the first degree was for Entered Apprentices and the second degree was for Masters or Fellows of the Craft) to a three degree system, securely established by 1730 (the Entered Apprentice, and the Fellow Craft degrees, with the addition of a third degree, for the Master Mason).  The latter transition from a two degree to a three degree system has been traced by recognizing that the Premier Grand Lodge of England only worked two degrees in 1717.  This can also be traced by tracking “Two early manuscripts of 1711 and 1726 (Trinity College, Dublin MS. and Graham MS.), an expose of 1723 (A Mason’s Examination), and two minutes of 1725,” indicating that a third degree was being worked.  Further, it was clearly established that three degrees were in use with the introduction of the bestselling expose of 1730, Samuel Prichard’s Masonry Dissected.[13]

According to Dr. Harrison, “The changes in ritual, the reorganization, and the centralisation [sic] that would be administered as a result of the new Grand Lodge eventually resulted in rebellion, most notably in York and with the creation of the rival ‘Antients’ [sic] in 1751,” only to be harmonized at the Union of 1813, as the United Grand Lodge of England.[14]

Within this milieu, there are credible reports that one of the earliest depictions of the third degree was “performed as a play by an all-Masonic cast at the Philo Musicae et Architecturae Societas Apollini (Apollonian Society for Lovers of Music and Architecture) in London.”  In this original play, we find that “it dramatically told two stories: the building of King Solomon’s Temple and the death of Noah, and with his death, the loss of his ‘secret knowledge.’”[15] In a later edition of Dr. James Anderson’s Constitutions of 1738 we find that a “Noachidae was the first name of the Masons, according to some old tradition” meaning “sons of Noah.”[16] For Anderson, his legendary conception of Noah was consequential insofar as Noah “was commanded and directed of God to build the great Ark”  and that he and “his three Sons, JAPHET, SHEM, and HAM, all Masons true, brought with them over the Flood the [Masonic] Traditions and Arts of the Ante-deluvians.”[17] This ongoing transition helped to facilitate the consummation of what we now know as Blue Lodge Freemasonry.

When the third degree ritual took its final form, in light of the contemporary debate about the nature of its origins,[18] we know that the new ceremony featured a legend about a Grand Master Mason Hiram Abiff, a widow’s son—replacing, but combining many of the original elements from the Masonic legend of Noah.  Assessing the accepted legend, we essentially find a narrative featuring Grand Masters, King Solomon of Israel, King Hiram of Tyre, and Hiram Abiff, focused on the building of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem.  According to one amended account, from the Masonic Scholar Brent Morris,

King Solomon organized the works by skill for work efficiency.  King Hiram furnished building supplies and workers for the Temple.  Hiram Abiff was the master builder, responsible for all of the decorations of the Temple… Three Fellowcraft Masons were impatient to receive the Master Mason word, and tried to extort it from Hiram Abiff.  He refused to reveal the secret and was murdered.  The murderers hastily buried the body of Hiram outside the city and tried to escape.  They were captured, returned to Solomon for judgment, and punished.  The body of Hiram was found and reburied in a more dignified grave.[19]

The allegorical meaning and/or allusions of the above mentioned legend are going to vary depending on the contingencies of a given evaluator.[20] Yet, if we take the recent work of Dr. Harris seriously, focused on the dispensation of Dr. John Theophilus Desaguliers, [21] we may be able to more responsibly ascertain what influenced the generation of the third degree—the degree where some contend that the Legends of Noah and Hiram Abiff were inspired by the Legend of Osiris.

The Dispensation of Dr. John Theophilus Desaguliers

According to Dr. David Harrison, in the text Genesis of Freemasonry, “most historians have neglected … the importance of the ritual, which was central to the history of Freemasonry and held the true meaning of the Craft.”[22] Beyond any notions about what “the true meaning of the Craft” truly is, given the challenges of circumscribing symbolic speculations, his review of the dispensation of Dr. Theophilus Desaguliers, focused on the generation of the third degree is instructive.  Assessing the work of Harrison, we clearly find that Desaguliers was “influenced by various sources.”[23]

As has already been reviewed in this text, the ritual ceremonies of Freemasonry have emerged over time.  Based on the documented evidence, the Craft first had one, two, and then three degrees of instruction—along with the proliferation of degrees in our times.  More importantly, we can say that the latter degrees mirrored the social/political worlds in which they emerged, culminating in the transformative nature of the third degree.

In the social world of early to mid 18th century Britain, we can find a renegotiation between what can be framed as Classical and Modern traditions.  This is reflected, in part, by the Classical traditions of the Bible, Stonemasons Guilds, and Esoterica (magic, alchemy, and hermeticism); and, in part, by the Early to Modern traditions of the Renaissance and the Scottish Enlightenment (rooted in Esoteric speculations, Reason and Science).[24] As such, the Classical and Modern traditions, in conflict with each other during the dispensation of Early to Modern Europe, and even in our times, found a place to lodge, symbolically in Solomon’s Temple.  Assessing the historical record, (Rev. Dr. James) Anderson and (Rev. Dr. John Theophilus) Desaguliers (both members of the Royal Society) are credited with transforming the latter conflict, playing significant roles in getting this work done through the creation of the Book of Constitutions (1723) and the generation of the third degree (1720s), respectively.  Accordingly, the historical record demonstrates that “Desaguliers, with the assistance of Anderson, reconstructed the ritual with dramatic and theatrical flare.”[25]

Further, we find that codifying third degree “ritual changes date to the early 1720s, and occur after Desaguliers visited the Lodge of Edinburgh that met at St. Mary’s Chapel.” A growing consensus of historians are contending that “elements of what was to become the Third Degree ritual were designed during this period, the changes perhaps being influenced by what Desaguliers had witnessed in the lodge in Scotland” and his collection of “Old Charges” and/or “Curious Writings.”[26]

Little is known about the life of Desaguliers.  In 1683, Desaguliers was born in France – during a time of political tumult and religious intolerance.   Eventually, his family fled to England.  It is reported that in the early 1700s he attended Oxford University, became a member, and eventual curator, of the Royal Society,[27] and “quickly penetrated [Sir. Isaac] Newton’s circle” of natural philosophers (denoting early scientists).[28] As such, we find that Desaguliers established a significant relationship with Newton, accepted as the keystone of the scientific revolution.[29] Newton was also recognized as an Esotericist in his times given his translation of The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, and his “obsession” with measuring and discovering the “occult” mysteries of Solomon’s Temple.  It is also reported that Newton became the godfather of one of Desaguliers’ children, and that Desaguliers’ “experiments even influenced some of Newton’s own ideas, such as the transmission of heat through a vacuum.”[30]

As well as being an early scientist, Desaguliers became a Reverend (and Huguenot minister) with the Church of England.  In his own life, eventually embodied in the confluence of influences on the generation of the third degree, we see that Nature’s God can be ascertained through Faith and Reason. Faith and Reason were not mutually excluded; they were essentially two different epistemologies that could be valued to secure more light.  Moreover, records indicate that he was at the founding of the Premier Grand Lodge of 1717.  In 1719, he was the Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge, a position that surely solidified his place and respect in the Craft, informing the authority that he was granted to re-work the third degree.  Before he died, apparently with little pomp and ceremony in 1744, it is reported that he served as Deputy Grand Master more than once.

Focused on Desaguliers’ dispensation, and the factors that contributed to the actual generation of the third degree, we find the renegotiation between the past and his working present.  By this, we are referencing the dispensation of Desaguliers and his attempt to synthesize the Classical and Modern traditions, embodied within the third degree.

The Classical and Modern Traditions

There were a variety of streams at work during the dispensation of Desaguliers’ third degree work.  One was the Classical Tradition, informed, in part, by the Bible, Stonemasons Guilds, and Esoterica (magic, hermeticism and alchemy).  The other was the Modern Tradition, informed, in part, by all that came before it, and the light of the Renaissance and the Scottish Enlightenment.

Assessing the earliest records of the Modern Craft, Freemasonry’s Judeo-Christian foundations are clear.[31] During the dispensation of Desaguliers, Protestant England was still in flux, religiously and politically.  England was still recovering from the political and religious turmoil-warfare that followed from Henry the VIII’s decision to separate from the Church of Rome two centuries earlier.  Within this space, Freemasons wanted to establish harmony.  According to Masonic scholar Mark A. Tabbert, they “sought to avoid theological and political differences by subscribing to a viewpoint that supported a universal affirmation of man’s dependence on God, the existence of an afterlife, and the wisdom conveyed through Holy Scripture and evident in the designs of nature.” Henceforth, Masons pledged to support “that religion in which all men agree,” essentially Christianity, given the dispensation of which this passage emerged, “leaving their particular opinions to themselves.”  Thus, Freemasonry is often framed as “a brotherhood of man under the Fatherhood of God.”[32]

As has been reviewed, Freemasonry pulls from the operative Stonemasons Guilds of Medieval Europe.  Assessing the nature and organization of the latter guilds, the literature suggests that they were “comprised of ‘laborers,’ who wrought the stone; ‘foremen,’ who supervised the work, and ‘architects,’ who were the master overseers.”  These “Guilds oversaw a craftsman’s progress from apprentice to master, maintained the quality and ownership of the craft, and provided assistance to the brothers in time of need.”  Further, “A stonemason’s ‘lodge’ was located at the site and was the place where mason gathered, received instruction and stored their tools.”[33]

Historicizing the religious tolerance and respect for the State that we often find in the Craft, it becomes clear that it is rooted in the operative past.  On the one hand, stonemasons built cathedrals for the Church, and on the other hand they built castles for the King.  To maintain harmony, and regulate the order, the accepted history of the Craft suggests that stonemasons “drew up long lists of rules or ‘charges;’ that articulated their mythical history, established their local authority, and required the members to be faithful Christians and loyal subjects to the king.”  To keep trade secrets and acknowledge rank, “hand signs and grips” were contrived, which allowed senior craftsmen to travel to “distant job sites.”[34] As times and historical conditions changed, so too did the craft from an operative system to a speculative system, appealing to the metaphors of architecture.

During the dispensation of Desaguliers, an Esoteric tradition of magic, hermeticism and alchemy was also at work.  Often, Esoteric matters are synonymous with the occult or “sinister” issues of deliberately hidden/veiled secrets.  Allegations of “black” magic and the Craft are old.  Confronting the reality that “Freemasonry is referred to as the Craft suggests” for Harrison, “a direct link to the craft guilds of the medieval period, yet elements of the ritual and the symbolism also hint at connections with the occult and particularly with witchcraft.”[35] During Freemasonry’s formative years, allegations of “black” magic were addressed by James Anderson (Book of Constitutions, 1738) and Laurence Dermott (Ahiman Rezon, 1778).  Anderson dealt with the allegation that Masons raised “the Devil in a Circle,” and Dermott recognized that “free masons were supposed to have a power to raise the Devil,” such that people were “forbid by the clergy to use the black art.”[36]

Beyond said allegations, the work of Harrison displays some more than curious connections with the Craft and magic.  For Harrison, there are connections between the following: “The ‘casting’ or ‘drawing’ of circles” used in early rituals; “the use of candles within the ritual, lit at the opening and blown out at the close of the lodge,” is thought to be “reminiscent of magic ceremonies, assisting in developing the atmosphere of the lodge room already charged with ambience created by the display of powerful symbolism and poetical ritual;” the reality that early lodges “met once a month during the time of the full moon,” like the ancient Druids; there are suspicious links recorded in 1586 of “Noah’s son Ham being linked to the black arts,” connected “to a gruesome story of necromancy;” and the prevalence of numerology, associated with “Masonic magical numbers, such as three, five, seven and 15.”[37]

The search for “lost knowledge” was also on offer during the dispensation of Desaguliers.  This theme was captured in the practices of hermeticism and alchemy, both tracing their roots to ancient Egypt.  Those that were disposed to the latter practices were persecuted as magicians, as such, by the Catholic Church, tortured and burned at the stake, alongside the philosophers and scientists.[38]

Beyond Desaguliers, the emergence of speculative Freemasonry is fundamentally connected to esoteric matters (i.e. hermeticism and alchemy) as portrayed by the interests of Elias Ashmole (the first Free and Accepted Mason of record).  He is cited for his translation of The Hermetic Arcanum (or The secret work of the hermetic philosophy), and his defense of the Rosicrucians in the text Theatrum Chemicum Brittannicum.  According to Harrison and other sources, we find that “he was an avid student of the occult, experimenting in many forms of what was termed magic, and rigorously researched number mysticism, alchemy and astrology.”  Additionally, he was “involved in the Hermetic Arts, learning Hebrew in an attempt to further his studies in his search for lost knowledge.”  Preceding Desaguliers, we find a foundational negotiation between the Classical and Modern traditions, given that it was Ashomle’s “study of the Old Science of alchemy and astrology, which inspired him to be a founding member of the Royal Society, which in turn would be a bastion for the New Science.”[39]

During the dispensation of Desaguliers, Egypt was the eternal, attractive enigma, especially for Esotericists.[40] Egypt was thought to be “the fount of all wisdom and the stronghold of hermetic lore.”[41] However, the dispensation of Desaguliers was not unique.  The fascination with Egypt started with the Greeks; was constitutive of the legendary founding of the Craft as portrayed by the Gothic Constitutions;[42] and continues to this very day.[43] People during the dispensation of Desaguliers learned about Egypt through existent texts/translations of the Greeks, and others, which informed hermeticism and alchemy (and its “imagined” institutional perpetuation via the Rosicrucians).

Though the hieroglyphs were not deciphered until 1822 by Jean-Francois Champollion, Egypt was not a complete enigma.  Renaissance and Enlightenment Europe learned about Egypt through the works of Herodotus, Plato, Plutarch, Strabo, Diodorus, Iamblichus, Clement of Alexandra, Horapollo, Apuleius, and others; and texts like the tractate Asclepius, the Corpus Hermeticum, the Tabula Smaragdina, and the Rosicrucian text Fama Fraternitatis (The Rosicrucian Manuscripts).  The latter texts kept the image of Egypt alive for the dispensation of Desaguliers, rooted in the mythos of hermeticism and alchemy.[44]

The patron of Hermeticism is fictitious.  Hermes never existed in his many purported guises.  In the foundational text The Secret History of Hermes Trismegistus: Hermeticism from Ancient to Modern Times, written by Egyptologist Florian Ebeling, we find that “The figure of this legendary Egyptian sage arose from the merging of two deities of highly divergent origin: the Egyptian god Thoth and the Greek God Hermes.”[45]

For the Egyptians, Thoth (who the Egyptians called Tehuti) was mysteriously born in some accounts from the semen of the deities Horus and Set, containing within his being two warring elements.   Thoth was typically symbolized by an ibis, a baboon, the head of an ibis on the body of a man, or as a human sage.[46]

Figure 2: Image of Thoth[47]

Thoth had many characteristics.  In different dispensations, he was known as the deity of wisdom, inventor of writing/hieroglyphs, generator of sacred literature, superintendent of justice, inventor of the calendar, author of measurement, measurer of time, generator of rituals and sacred offerings, and inventor/practitioner of magic.[48] In Egypt’s Hellenized (or Grecian) period (circa 332 B.C.E to 30 C.E.), his magical and/or “mysterious” elements became privileged, focused on easing one’s passage to the netherworld, such that it even became inappropriate to even speak his name.[49]

After Alexander of Macedonia conquered Egypt in 332 B.C.E., Thoth became Hermes Trismegistus (thrice great), first portrayed by Akhmim in 240 C.E., though referred to as “twice great” around 570 B.C.E.[50]

Figure 3: Image of Hermes Trismegistus[51]

For the Greeks, Hermes was originally the “helpful messenger of the gods,” according to Ebeling.  He had many attributes, from the god of community to the god of oratory.  Similar to Thoth, “he conducted the souls of the dead in the netherworld… out of the shadowy realm and into the world above.”[52] When he was merged with Thoth, he took on a new legend and attributes.  He became the deity “of all wisdom, philosophy, and theology,” even teaching philosophy to the Greeks under his pseudepigrapha.[53] He also became the deity of the “Egyptian Mysteries,” though there are grounds for a “hermetic lore” being rooted in Egypt.[54]

Typically when people talk of the “Egyptian Mysteries,” they are appealing to notions of Egyptian secrets, sacred ritual, and ceremony—all attributed to Thoth. This brings us to “The Legend of Osiris,” and attendant ritual, ceremony and “mystery.”

Figure 4: Image of Horus (left), Osiris (center), and Isis/Hathor (right)[55]

Assessing the nature of the legend, we find the following amended account by the British Museum:

Osiris was the king of the earth and Isis was the queen. Osiris was a good king, and he ruled over the earth for many years. However, everything was not well. Seth [or Set/Typhon] was jealous of Osiris because he wanted to be the ruler of the earth. He grew angrier and angrier until one day he killed Osiris. Osiris went down into the underworld and Seth remained on earth and became king. Osiris and Isis had one son called Horus. Horus battled against Seth and regained the throne.  After that, Horus was the king of the earth and Osiris was the king of the underworld.[56]

Ironically, at least during the Hellenized period of Egypt, if there were any secrets, they were out.  The Legend of Osiris was public knowledge.  As such, the “Egyptian Mysteries” were not so mysterious/secret. It was dramatically/symbolically depicted by Plutarch circa 100 C.E; viewed as a public morality play and seemingly derided by the Christian Minucius Felix circa 200 C.E.; and it was referenced as a three degree initiation ritual by Apuleius circa 200 C.E., though expressed cautiously.[57] The words of Apuleius are instructive, given that his work appears to be the ancient foundation of Masonic ritual and ceremony:

Perhaps, curious reader, you may be eager to know what was then said and done [during the Mystery Initiation/s of Isis/Osiris]. I would tell you were it lawful for you to hear. But both the ears that heard those things and the tongues that told them would reap the evil results of their rashness. Still, however, kept in suspense, as you probably are, with religious longing, I will not torment you with long-protracted anxiety. Hear, therefore, but believe what is the truth. I approached the confines of death, and, having trod on the threshold of Proserpine, I returned there from, being borne through all the elements. At midnight I saw the sun shining with its brilliant light; and I approached the presence of the gods beneath and the gods above, and stood near and worshipped them. Behold, I have related to you things of which, though heard by you, you must necessarily remain ignorant.[58]

In the passage above, we find Apuleius referencing a kind of dreadful death and “resurrection,” in this world, alluding to the immortality of the soul, in the next.  Similar textual references can be found in Egypt, when tracing the travels of the sun god Ra and the tests of his companions in the netherworld by ferryman and the guardians of the gates.[59]

Beyond ritual and ceremony, and the variety of texts that are attributed to Hermes, hermeticism was/is essentially a holistic-pantheistic philosophy, developed to communicate the following maxims: “That which is above is the same as that which is below;” and “all is part of one, or one is all.”[60] Ritual ceremonies of initiation were contrived to make this ethos dramatically experiential, in Hellenized Egypt.  Accordingly, this was the knowledge that was lost, which needed to be found.  Informed by this “lost knowledge,” Ashmole, Newton (alchemist and purported Rosicrucian), Desaguliers and others in their dispensation, in the midst of the tensions between faith, reason and the State, would endeavor to recover and reconstruct the foundations for the idea that that there needn’t be any “false” distinctions between Man, Earth, and Cosmos.  All is One, Spirit/Light.

Alchemy, rooted in spiritual transformation, through the metaphor of turning base metals into gold, is also traced to Egypt.  It is important to account for given its practice during the dispensation of Desaguliers.[61] According to the literature, it appears that alchemy “first flourished in Hellenistic Egypt in the first century.” It is an amalgamation of various philosophies, like the naturalist philosophy of Aristotle, the tenants of Stoicism, Gnostic doctrine, Babylonian astrological lore, “and motifs from Egyptian mythology, particularly the myth of Osiris.”[62] The first recorded alchemical text is attributed to Zosimus.  Valuing the hermetic doctrine, we find Zosimus communicating the following ethos:

In his Book on Immateriality, Hermes rejects magic [in opposition to Zoroaster] and says: ‘Pneumatic man, who has known himself, must neither achieve anything whatsoever with the help of magic, even if it is generally useful, nor must he defy necessity, but allow it to act according to its nature and its will.  And he must now allow himself to be distracted along the way from his search for himself, to know God, and to understand the ineffable Trinity; and he must leave the filth subjected to him, that is, the body to Destiny, to do with it what it will.’[63]

Later in the aforementioned text, laboratory experiments are on display for transforming base metals into finer substances.  “But the spiritual side of alchemy predominates,” ultimately citing “the authority of Hermes Trismegistus.”  As such, chemical metaphors are used to allude to “knowledge of self, God and nature.”[64]

The latter realities were brought together, informed by the Scottish Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th Century, rooted in the Renaissance.  The Renaissance, French for “rebirth,” was a period where Europe was effectively raised from the Dark Ages, imposed by ignorance, superstition and fear,[65] into the light of the ancient world, as preserved by the Monastery,[66] and the Moors from North Africa.[67] It was at once a dispensation where “artistic, social, scientific, and political thought turned in new directions.”[68]

In Eric Hornung’s text The Secret Lore of Egypt we find that the Renaissance becomes important because this renewed “encounter with Greek literature [e.g. Plutarch, Diodorus and Iamblichus], particularly in the framework of the Platonic Academy in Florence, awakened fresh interest in the classical accounts of Egypt and its superior wisdom.”  Similarly, “There was a special focus on late antiquity, an epoch that was thoroughly imbued with Egypt, while classical antiquity remained in the shadows.”[69] Overtime, “Renaissance Hermeticism quickly spread to England, where Thomas More wrote a biography of Pico della Mirandola and depicted a religion with expressly Hermetic traits in this Utopia (1516) and also propagated the idea of religious freedom.”[70] These ideas were also foundationally advanced, and re-imagined in England, through the New Atlantis (1626) by Francis Bacon.[71]

Rosicrucianism, rooted in Renaissance Hermeticism and alchemy, would also “spread to England,” committed to the “idea of religious freedom,” captured in the text Fama Fraternitatis. Though the founder (Christian Rosenkreutz) and the beginning of the order appear to be legendary, the following is clear about the Rosicrucians, for the purposes of this research: they emerged in the beginning of the 17th century; they are rooted in hermeticism and alchemy; they trace their legendary roots back to ancient Egypt; and according to the illuminating work of Hornung, “The New Order proved to be attractive to many Freemasons,” especially informed by their religious tolerance.[72]

“During the religious and political wars that spread throughout Western Europe in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, intellectuals, artists, scientists and theologians were often forced to relocate in search of safety,” according to Tabbert.  Britain became the destiny, in part, and “public taverns and coffeehouses became popular places for cultured gentlemen to gather for intelligent and social discourse.”[73] This is the dispensation where men like “Robert Boyle, Sir Isaac Newton and Elias Ashmole” got together to found the Royal Society, practice natural philosophy and “discover ways to gain personal improvement, bring order to society and understand the whole Universe,” in concert with faith.[74]

Figure 5: Image of King Solomon’s Temple[75]

The various elements that made up the Classical and Modern traditions came together in the biblical depiction of King Solomon’s Temple (I Kings and 2 Chronicles) for Desaguliers (and Anderson).  During the dispensation of Desaguliers, many natural philosophers published treatises on its nature.  It was contended by the likes of Newton, and others, that “the Temple’s architecture and ornaments held mathematical and geometrical keys to understanding the Nature of God and His creation.”[76] Accordingly, Faith and Reason would be brought together for Desaguliers in the third degree ritual.  Today, Solomon’s Temple is used as a symbol to unify the Craft, rooted in the Classical and Modern traditions, Faith and Reason.


Accosting the permissive suggestion of Bro. Watkins, that “sufficient evidence” was essentially at hand for an African Origins of Freemasonry, by displaying various figures from Egypt next to “similar” figures peculiar to members of the Craft, this researcher sought to create a more responsible framework to answer the question: Is there an African Origin of Freemasonry? Consequently, Three Stations of circumambulation were created for negotiation, (1) The Secret History Station, (2) The Generation of the Ritual Station, and (3) The Egyptian Meaning Station.

In this paper, “The Generation of the Ritual Station” was assessed.  It was reviewed focused on tracing the generation of the third degree, in light of the purported similarities between the Legend of Hiram Abiff and the Legend of the Egyptian deity Osiris, as originally portrayed by the Greek, Plutarch.   Establishing what can count as “sufficient evidence” for said question was the charge, beyond gross speculations. As such, the genealogy of the third degree was traced; and the dispensation of Dr. John Theophilus Desaguliers was reviewed.

Upon reviewing the genealogy of the third degree, we found that it slowly emerged in Medieval Europe, from an operative one degree stonemason’s guild, to a speculative three degree system.  Upon reviewing the dispensation of Desaguliers, we found that a variety of streams were at work.   One was the Classical Tradition, informed, in part, by the Bible, Stonemason’s Guilds, and Esoterica (magic, hermeticism and alchemy).  The other was the Modern Tradition, informed, in part, by all that came before it, and the light of the Renaissance and the Scottish Enlightenment.

In light of the above, we can conclude the following on the problem of the African Origin of Freemasonry, upon our encounter with “The Generation of the Ritual Station”:

  • There is no “smoking gun” for a direct or clearly conscious connection for Desaguliers’ third degree work and the Legend of Osiris.

Nevertheless, based on “sufficient evidence,” we can conclude the following:

  • The oldest recorded “resurrection” narrative is traced to Egypt, per Osiris.[77]
  • The Western fascination and legendary depictions of Egypt started with the Greeks.[78]
  • The oldest Freemasonic document of record, the Regius Manuscript, traces its legendary founding to Egypt.[79]
  • Esotericism (magic, hermeticism and alchemy) interested early speculative Masons like Elias Ashmole, the first Free and Accepted Mason of record (demonstrated by his translation of The Hermetic Arcanum, and his defense of the Rosicrucians in the text Theatrum Chimicum Britannicum),[80] and Desaguliers (as portrayed by the iterations of the third degree ritual and Desaguliers’ close relationship with the esotericist and scientist Sir Isaac Newton).[81]
  • Hermeticism and alchemy trace their foundations to ancient Egypt.[82]
  • During the dispensation of Desaguliers and Anderson, there were a variety of texts in existence traced to the Greco-Roman Period (e.g. Plutarch, Diodorus, Apuleius, Iamblichus), and others (like the tractate Asclepius, the Corpus Hermeticum, the Tabula Smaragdina, and the Rosicrucian text Fama Fraternitatis), that depicted various (legendary/mythical) conceptions of Egypt.[83]
  • In the 17th century, the Rosicrucians, rooted in esoteric-Egyptian lore, proved to be attractive to many Freemasons.[84]
  • Freemasons, along with many others, are still fascinated with Egypt.

Though disturbed, there are two more stations to cross if we want to secure More Light, focused on the problem of the African/Egyptian Origins of Freemasonry.


[1] See Dr. Adrian Taylor, “Accosting the African Origins of Freemasonry, and Beyond,” in The Phylaxis (Volume 36, Number 4, Winter 2009).

[2] See Taylor, “Accosting the African Origins of Freemasonry, and Beyond” for a reference to Lanier A. Watkins text “Origins, 1717 or Antiquity?”

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] For a representative text, see Albert G. Mackey, “The Ancient Mysteries” (1882) in The Symbolism of Freemasonry (Forgotten Books, 2008).

[6] See Plutarch, “Isis and Osiris” in Plutarch: Moralia, Volume VII (Loeb Classic No. 306), (Massachusetts: Loeb Classic Library, 1936).

[7] See Christopher Hodapp, “Appendix A: The Regius Manuscript” in Freemasons for Dummies (New Jersey: For Dummies, 2005).

[8] See Mackey.  Also, see Russell R. Boedeker’s review of the matter “Albert Pike: Trilogy of Thoughts” (Pietre-Stones Review of Freemasonry, September 15, 2007) (November 28, 2009).

[9] See David Harrison, The Genesis of Freemasonry (Hersham, Surrey KT12 4RG: Ian Allan Publishing, 2009).

[10] Hodapp, 119.

[11] See Melvyn Bragg, “Scottish Enlightenment” (BBC Radio 4, History, In Our Time, December 5, 2002) (accessed January 6, 2010).

[12] Harrison, 14.

[13] See S. Brent Morris, The Complete Idiots Guide to Freemasonry (New York: Alpha, 2006), 22.

[14] Harrison, 10.

[15] Hodapp, 121

[16] Harrison, 123.

[17] See James Anderson, The Constitutions of the Free-Masons (1734), (Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2006) (accessed November 29, 2009), 7 of 51.

[18] Morris, 11.

[19] Ibid., 12.

[20] The meaning of the third degree ritual resurrection takes on a variety of different meanings, from faith in one’s word, the raising of Lazarus or Elijah, the eternal quest to find lost ancient/secret wisdom, the death and Resurrection of Christ, the dismembering and reassembling of Osiris, the immortality of the soul, the illusion of death, to the cycles of death and rebirth in nature itself, and beyond.

[21] See Erik Hornung (translated from German by David Lorton) The Secret Lore of Egypt (New York: Cornell University Press, 2001).

[22] Harrison, 201.

[23] Ibid., 120.

[24] Ibid., 112.

[25] Ibid., 117.

[26] Ibid., 113 – 114.

[27] See Melvyn Bragg, “The Royal Society” (BBC Radio 4, History, In Our Time, January 4th and 5th 2010) (accessed January 6, 2010).

[28] Ibid., 126.

[29] See Dr. Robert A. Hatch, “Sir Isaac Newton” (The Scientific Revolution Homepage, 1998) (accessed November 28, 2009).

[30] Harrison, 126.

[31] See Anderson’s, The Constitutions of the Free-Masons (1734) for a prime example of the Judeo-Christian roots of the Craft.  In his text he frames the history-genealogy of Masonry squarely within the Biblical tradition.

[32] See Mark A. Tabbert, American Freemasons (New York: New York University Press, 2006), 18.

[33] Tabbert, 18 – 19.

[34] Tabbert, 19.

[35] Harrison, 49.

[36] Ibid., 49 – 50.

[37] Ibid., 48 – 54.

[38] Hornung, 90 – 91.

[39] Harrison, 25.

[40] See Hornung’s “Introduction.”  And see Jan Assmann’s “Forward” in Florian Ebeling’s text (translated by Florian Ebeling) The Secret History of Hermes Trismegistus (New York: Cornell University Press, 2007).

[41] Hornung, 1.

[42] See Hodapp.

[43] To view how Egyptologists account for an Afrocentric conception of ancient Egypt, see Hornung’s chapter “18. Egypt à la Mode: Modern Egytosophy and Afrocentrism.”

[44] See Ebeling and Hornung.

[45] Ebeling, 3.

[46] Hornung, 6.

[47] See “Tehuti/Thoth” (Google Images, 2009) (November 28, 2009).

[48] Hornung, 9.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid., 9 – 10.

[51] See “Hermes Trismegistus” (Google Images, 2009) (November 28, 2009).

[52] Ebeling, 4 – 5.

[53] Ibid., 6 – 7.

[54] See Hornung, “1. The Ancient Roots of the ‘Other’ Egypt.”

[55] See “Horus, Osiris, and Isis” (Google Images, 2009) (accessed November 28, 2009).

[56] See “Story” focused on “Ancient Egypt” (The British Museum, 1999) (accessed November 28, 2009).

[57] Hornung, 13.

[58] For a summary of this passage see Hornung, 14.  See P.G. Walsh, Apuleius: The Golden Ass (Translated With Introduction and Explanatory Notes.), (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994).

[59] Hornung, 14 – 15.

[60] Ibid., 14.

[61] See Ebeling’s chapter entry “Prehistory and Early History of a Phantasm” focused on section “4. Hermes: Astrologer, Magus, and Alchemist.”

[62] Ibid., 25.

[63] Ibid., 26.

[64] Ibid., 27.

[65] See The Dark Ages (The History Channel: DVD), (A&E Home Video, 2007).

[66] Tabbert, 16 – 17.

[67] See Ivan Van Sertima, The Golden Age of the Moor (New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1991).

[68] See “Renaissance” (Annenberg Media, 2009) (accessed November 28, 2009).

[69] Hornung, 83.

[70] Ibid., 88.

[71] See the text edited by Michael R. Poll, “New Atlantis” by Francis Bacon, in Collected Rosicrucian Thought (Louisiana: Cornerstone Book, 2007).

[72] See Hornung, “13. ‘Reformation of the Whole Wide World’: The Rosicrucians.”

[73] Tabbert, 20.

[74] Ibid., 20.

[75] See “Solomon’s Temple” (Google Images, 2009) (accessed November 29, 2009).

[76] Ibid., 23.

[77] See Plutarch.

[78] See Hornung, “2. Foreign Wonderland of the Nile: The Greek Writers.”

[79] See Hodapp, “Appendix A: The Regius Manuscript.”

[80] See Harrison, 25.

[81] See Harrison, “Freemasonry in Flux: Desaguliers, the Masonic Enlightenment and the Birth of Modern Freemasonry.”

[82] See Ebeling, “I. Prehistory and Early History of a Phantasm.”

[83] See Ebeling, 25, 28, 33, 37 – 40, 50 – 51, 57, 76, 84 – 85, 89, 99, and 105 – 106.  Also see Hornung, 12, 20 – 22, 53, 84 – 85, 93, 103, and 118 – 121.

[84] See Hornung, “13. ‘Reformation of the Whole Wide World’: The Rosicrucians.”

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A devoted student of the Western Mystery Traditions, Greg is a firm believer in the Masonic connections to the Hermetic traditions of antiquity, its evolution through the ages and into its present configuration as the antecedent to all contemporary esoteric and occult traditions. He is a self-called searcher for that which was lost, a Hermetic Hermit and a believer in “that which is above is so too below.” Read more about Greg Stewart.


  1. The author may want to review this paragraph in light of the evidence below:

    Within this milieu, there are credible reports that one of the earliest depictions of the third degree was “performed as a play by an all-Masonic cast at the Philo Musicae et Architecturae Societas Apollini (Apollonian Society for Lovers of Music and Architecture) in London.” In this original play, we find that “it dramatically told two stories: the building of King Solomon’s Temple and the death of Noah, and with his death, the loss of his ‘secret knowledge.’”[15] In a later edition of Dr. James Anderson’s Constitutions of 1738 we find that a “Noachidae was the first name of the Masons, according to some old tradition” meaning “sons of Noah.”[16] For Anderson, his legendary conception of Noah was consequential insofar as Noah “was commanded and directed of God to build the great Ark” and that he and “his three Sons, JAPHET, SHEM, and HAM, all Masons true, brought with them over the Flood the [Masonic] Traditions and Arts of the Ante-deluvians.”[17] This ongoing transition helped to facilitate the consummation of what we now know as Blue Lodge Freemasonry.

    Having thus invented and adopted the name as the distinctive designation of a Mason, he repeats it in his second edition or revision of the “Old Charges” appended to the Book of Constitutions. The first of these charges, in the Constitutions of 1723, contained this passage: ” A Mason is obliged by his tenure to obey the moral law.” In the edition of 1738, Dr. Anderson has, without authority, completed the sentence by adding the words ” as a true Noachida.” This interpolation was reached by Entick, who edited the third and fourth editions in 1756 and 1767, and by Northouck, who published the fifth in 1784, both of whom restored the old reading, which has ever since been preserved in all the Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of England.

    Dermott, however, who closely followed the second edition of Anderson, in the composition of his Ahiman Rezon of course adopted the new term.

    About that time, or a little later, a degree was fabricated on the continent of Europe, bearing the name of ” Patriarch Noachite,” one peculiar feature of which was that it represented the existence of two classes or lines of Masons, the one descending from the Temple of Solomon, and who were called Hiramites, and the other tracing their origin to Noah, who were styled Noachites.

  2. Bro. Taylor, I think you over analyzed the paper, “Origins, 1717 or Antiquity?” As you even stated, “…..this researcher argued that sufficient evidence had been crafted to simply suggest that Freemasonry may have an African origin…” The purpose of that paper was not to make any groundbreaking definitive statements. The paper was written in 2002 and during that time the most interesting research topics centered on “Regularity of Prince Hall Masonry” and the “Recognition of Prince Hall Lodges by Their Mainstream Counterparts.” At that time, I felt that the esoterics within the ranks of Prince Hall Masonry should advance the overall conversation to another front. I sought to challenge my brethren (Prince Hall and Mainstream) to think about other topics and other possibilities within the framework of masonry. Having said that, I do like the rigor that you intend to bring to the topic. I look forward to seeing your other scholarly works. Also, I would like to add that this topic deserves a true investigation into the decline of the Knights Templar and the sudden rise of the Freemasonic order. Equally important would be an investigation into the lost bibliography of Greece or simply the undocumented influence of Ancient Egypt on the Greek civilization. In my mind, these are the frontiers of this topic, and they deserve the rigors of a true academic investigation. Bro. Taylor, this would be a great place for your analytical skill set.

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