Phoenixmasonry Live Interviews Dr. Bro. David Harrison
Genesis of Freemasonryby Dr. David Harrison explores the way in which Freemasonry developed in England during the late 17th Century and all of the 18th Century. The book takes us through The Three Transitional Periods of English Freemasonry. Firstly, the transformation from Operative to Speculative during the 17th and early 18th Centuries. Secondly, the foundation of the London Grand Lodge in 1717 and the subsequent modernization of the ritual. Thirdly, the schisms and rebellions within Freemasonry, which forced the society to rebuild and reconcile in 1813.
Yes, the founding of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717 is discussed. But even more revealing, we learn some fascinating history of the players involved and their philosophical pursuits.
Prominent in the discussion is Elias Ashmole, the first recorded English Speculative Freemason to enter into an unknown Lodge in Warrington, Lancashire, in 1646. Warrington is Dr. David Harrison’s Lodge.
Other interesting players in this formation of English Freemasonry and its development are Dr. John Theophilus DeSaguliers, Dr. John Anderson, Sir Christopher Wren, John Dee, Sir Robert Moray, Francis Bacon, Inigo Jones, Isaac Newton, Alexander Pope, Thomas Paine, Jonathan Swift, William Preston and many others. Of all of these perhaps Dr. John Anderson and his “Book of Constitutions,” and Dr. John Theophilus DeSaguliers who wrote and inserted the Third Degree into Masonic ritual, stand out the most.
Weaved into all the personalities of this era of English Masonic development was the philosophical schools of thought that influenced Freemasonry and the schools of study that linked onto the Craft.
So we learn about Kabbalism, Rosicrucianism, Hermeticism and Druid culture. The schools of the Occult figured prominently into the development of
Dr. John Theophilus Desaguliers
English Freemasonry – astrology, numerology, magic, alchemy, necromancy to name a few. Balancing this was the influence of science and Natural Philosophy.
Then there was the almost worship of architecture and the fascination with the dimensions of King Solomon’s Temple. This gave rise to the cult of Palladian Architecture and the attempt to make St. Paul’s Cathedral a representation of Solomon’s Temple. Dr. Harrison also provides his reader with a deep discussion of Masonic symbolism and how symbols changed over time. Featured prominently in all the philosophical, architectural, political, occult and religious discussions and influence on Freemasonry was The Royal Society. Many early influential Freemasons were also members of the Royal Society.
Although Lodges were prohibited from engaging in politics, still the machinations of everyday life played into the story of Freemasonry. Thus we see how the political interaction of Royalists, Parliamentarians, Jacobites, Whigs, and Tories influenced who had the upper hand in decision making within the Craft.
Not to be forgotten is the book’s treatment of the ever changing world of Freemasonry. So we learn of the battle between the Antients and the Moderns, The York Grand Lodge and The Wigan Grand Lodge. The coming together, the reconciliation of English Freemasonry in 1813 which resulted in the United Grand Lodge of England culminates the story.
Genesis of Freemasonry is a book that came out of Dr. Harrison’s Ph.D. thesis. Consequently, this work is free of legends, theories, hypothesizes, speculation, suppositions, conjecture and other non-evidentiary thinking. As Sgt. Friday used to say on Dragnet, “Give me the facts, nothing but the facts.”
Here we have a book that is well done, very complete and that covers most everything you ever wanted to know about the who, what and where of the rise of English Freemasonry. It is by far the best factual rendition of how English Freemasonry bloomed and became everybody’s Mother Lodge. Do not miss adding this to your Masonic Library.
Recently I attended a Festive Board of Jewel P. Lightfoot Lodge No 1283, Grand Lodge of Texas AF & AM. The guest speaker DDGM John Tolbert made a passionate presentation on Hermeticism and Freemasonry using slides as illustrations. That made his presentation peppered with pictures which is what this article will look like. Jewel P. Lightfoot, the founder of this Lodge, had a marked interest in Hermeticism as you will see. This made the Presentation all the more personal to the members of this Lodge assembled. Tolbert was kind enough to allow me to reprint his presentation with his pictures which you will find below.
HERMETIC PHILOSOPHY AND FREEMASONRY by Brother John Tolbert
Have you ever wondered why all of the words and passwords that we use in our degrees are in Hebrew and that every prayer we use in our degrees are from the Old Testament?
Have you noticed that a Masonic Lodge room is full of diametrically opposed objects and symbols which represent polar concepts or ideas? Examples of these opposites are:
Square and Compasses
Rough and Perfect Ashlars
Jachin and Boaz / Wisdom and Strength
Terrestrial and Celestial Globes
Darkness to Light
Checkered Pavement / Black and White pavers
East and West…North and South
Death and Rebirth
Sun and Moon
Stepping off upon the right and left feet
Cowans and Eavesdroppers Ascending and Descending
Isn’t it interesting that Masons are encouraged from the very beginning to control their passions and to pursue a virtuous and pure life? It’s interesting, because the Greeks demanded the very same thing from their candidates before they were admitted into the Ancient Mystery Schools, and the School of Pythagoras (you can see a map of the school here).
After reading thousands of pages written by Masonic scholars, I am convinced that Freemasonry was not “invented” by the English (nor the Scots) in the seventeenth or eighteenth century. Yes, in the early eighteenth century, Freemasonry was developed into a regulated institution and rituals were developed from existing initiatory rites of operative Lodges, but something else was going on beneath the surface and intellectuals of the time could sense that there was more.
In the most recent issue of Heredom, the annual publication of the Scottish Rite Research Society, on page 61 (a paper about the 1738 anti-Masonic Papal Bull by Marsha Keith Schuchard) it reads:
“In January 1721, when the antiquarian William Stukeley (close friend of Newton and Desaguliers) determined to join the fraternity, “suspecting it to be the remains of the mysteries of the ancients…”
This illustrates that even from the first years of organized Freemasonry, educated men were recognizing something about Freemasonry that led them to believe that it was rooted in ancient philosophy and concepts.
The namesake of this Lodge, Jewel P. Lightfoot, speaks candidly to the Texas Mason concerning the mystical and spiritual aspects of the Craft. Please listen carefully to the following quote from the INTRODUCTORY in our current monitor, written by Lightfoot many decades ago.
“ The presence in the modern Masonic system, of many of the emblems, symbols and allegories of the ancient Temples of Initiation, as well as certain rites performed therein, has persuaded the most learned among Masonic scholars to conclude that Masonry is of very ancient origin, and is, in some aspects, the modern successor of, and heir to, the sublime Mysteries of the Temple of Solomon, and the Temples of India, Chaldea, Egypt, Greece, and Rome [I am certain that he was referring to the cult of Mithras], as well as the basic doctrine of the Essenes, Gnostics and other Mystic Orders“
With this single quote, Brother Lightfoot clearly asserts that Masonry contains remnants of the symbols and rites of the Ancient Mysteries and Masonry also contains the basic doctrines of known esoteric groups, which he terms, Mystic Orders.
This is precisely what the antiquarian William Stukeley had noticed in 1721; there were aspects of Freemasonry that seemed to have similarities to known rites and cults of the ancient world.
This presentation is specifically written to explore one well known stream of thought from the ancient world, broadly called Hermetic Philosophy, and its potential influence on the early progenitors of our Craft. Remember that Stukeley was a close friend of Newton and Desaguliers. John Theophilus Desaguliers is generally credited with the early development of our three degree system, he was the secretary / research assistant for Newton for twenty years, and he was also the third Grand Master of English Lodges.
NOTE – The association of Desaguliers with Isaac Newton is well worth researching; Newton was a practicing alchemist, obsessed with King Solomon’s Temple, and concealed his heretical religious views in enciphered writings, which were supposed to be burned at his death but were retained and translated in the twentieth century.
Hermetic Philosophy focuses around an entity called Hermes; this entity has also been named Thoth (Egyptians), Mercury (Romans), and Hermes Trismegistus or Hermes Thrice Great.
Thoth, Hermes, Hermes Trismegistus, may or may not have been just a single person, but the name and legend could have been inspired by some incredibly intelligent human (like Plato, Pythagoras, or Hypatia) who had such a capacity for knowledge, that their writings evolved into myth and legend, and sometimes converted into God forms. Plato is a perfect example of how one very intelligent person can have profound influence on entire civilizations, and the effects can last for centuries.
Most esoterically minded Masons are already aware of the great intellect of “Hermes” and his contributions of science and knowledge to mankind, but let’s examine how Hermetic Philosophy was evident in 15th-18th century literature, art, and direct Masonic connections. It is important to recall at this point that the typical European citizen had been enduring centuries of civil unrest, violent revolutions, constant wars, disease epidemics, cruel oppression from monarchs and religious authorities, public torture spectacles, and the raw uncertainty of life itself. In light of these long term social stresses, it is no wonder that a new, mysterious, and apparently ancient spirituality would capture the fascinations of intellectuals and develop into obsessions of looking for a better world, a pure un-corrupt religious experience, and a closer relationship to God. These are the allures of so-called Hermetic Philosophy.
The term Hermeticism, doesn’t really have a dogmatic or well defined definition, but in general, it includes the study of alchemy, gnostic spirituality, Kabbalah, theurgy, astrology, and other mystical approaches to relating the physical reality to the spiritual realm. Almost any occult science could be included under the Hermetic umbrella.
The following is a brief and certainly incomplete list of known references to the interest in Hermeticism in 15-18th century Europe.
1.Marsilio Ficino’s translation of what is now called the Corpus Hermeticum brought Hermes and the mysterious writings into the focus of philosophers and the ecclesiastic authorities. The Hermetic writings were interpreted as having predicted the coming of Christ and therefor acceptable; a beautiful marble floor panel in Siena Cathedral (1480s) in Italy depicts Hermes Trismegistus as being a contemporary of Moses.
2. Hermes was a central character in the Sloane (1646) manuscript Constitutions. Hermes discovers the two pillars, one of brick and one of marble, which contain the preserved wisdom and knowledge of the ancient masters.
3. Alchemy, being within the scope of Hermetic Philosophy is everywhere in Europe during this period. The Medici funded translations of ancient scrolls rescued from Byzantium revealed to the Western mind the concepts of alchemy. The Rosicrucian manifestos of the early 1600’s, likely written by Johanne Valentine Andreae and his associates, set off what is called a furor of interest in alchemy as well.
4. Giordano Bruno is travelling around Europe (the late 1500s) promoting controversial mathematical and astronomic theories; he is also promoting the Hermetic Art of Memory, which is not just a mnemonic strategy of memory, but a mystical technique. Bruno was burned at the stake in early 1600 for his heretical scientific and spiritual views.
5. William Shaw, the Master of Werks for James VI, declares in the Second Shaw Statutes (1599) that all craft fellows and prentices shall “Tak tryall of the art of memory”. William Fowler, a colleague of Shaw, had met with Bruno in London in the 1580s and it is feasible that this is how Shaw became exposed to the Hermetic Art of Memory.
6.Robert Cooper, the Grand archivist of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, makes many references to Hermeticism in his book Cracking the Freemasons Code. Brother Cooper asserts Hermeticism as being a component of Scottish Freemasonry in the 1500-1600s.
7. The interest in Alchemy, astrology, magick, and the Kabbalah are very evident in the circles of Royal Society members, and well known Masonic persons. Elias Ashmole, Isaac Newton, Thomas Vaughn, and others were known alchemists and studied occult subject matter; their personal libraries are evidence of these interests. John Byrom maintained a group of intellectually inclined Brothers who convened in an occasional gathering called the Cabala Club, and Lodges in London have minutes showing that papers were presented in Lodges about John Dee, Rosicrucians, and Jacob Boehme. Boehme’s visionary spiritual writings as well as John Dee’s books of angel magic and alchemy were of extreme interest to many intellectuals and free thinkers during this time period.
8. Kabbalah teacher Rabbi Leone Yahudahdi Modena, in 1680, lectured in London about Solomon’s Temple, Lawrence Dermott, the Grand Secretary of the Antients refers to the Rabbi, as Architect, Hebraist, and Brother.
9. Acception – There existed in the 1600’s an elite organization, which was closely associated with the London Mason’s Company, the operative organization of stone Masons. This elite and secretive group was called The Acception and only “accepted” very few members (one being Elias Ashmole); the cost of membership was very high, and one had to be highly educated and well respected. The early 20th century Masonic scholar and writer Reverend Castells, asserts that the name “The Acception” is synonymous to Kabbalah, which in Hebrew means “to receive.” Reverend Castells is convinced that “The Acception” was a purely speculative Masonic organization.
10. Medieval Kabbalists held Hermes in great veneration, no wonder, since he is considered (in some legends) as having given the Kabbalah to Moses. The Zohar contains phrases which closely parallel the well known Hermetic motto, “As above so below.” “Come and see: the world above and the world below are perfectly balanced.” (Zohar 2:176b) Kabbalah and Hermeticism share the all important mystical understanding of the balanced interrelations of heaven and earth.
Historian Dr David Harrison constructs the hidden history of Freemasonry through a mixture of mediaeval guild societies, alchemy and necromancy. From his book The Genesis of Freemasonry, this video comes from On the Level in which Andrew Selwyn -Crome interviews Historian Dr David Harrison.
In the interview, Aelwyn-Crome examines the earliest known Freemasons and their obsessions with Solomon’s Temple, alchemy and prophecy. In that exploration he looks at the formation of the Grand Lodge in London which leads to rebellions within the Craft throughout England and the formation of the antients, a York line of early Masonry.
In the interview, Harrison discusses the role of French immigrant Dr Jean Theophilus Desaguliers in the development of English Freemasonry, focusing on his involvement with the formation of the mysterious modern Masonic ritual.
On 12 May 2010 the Board of Management passed a resolution stating the principles governing esoteric research. These principles are central to the practice of Regular Freemasonry. In order that there be no doubt that they bind every brother and Lodge in this jurisdiction I have decided to make them the subject of a Grand Master’s edict. At my request the Board of Management has rescinded its resolution so that it may be substituted with the following edict which takes effect immediately.
1. Authorised, official Masonic Education and Instruction is only ‘Regular’ when applied to Free and Accepted or Speculative Masonry (Regular Freemasonry).
2. Because of the widely divergent interpretations which can be placed upon it, I am concerned about the unqualified use of the word “esoteric”, or any of its derivatives or extensions, within Regular Freemasonry. Such use needs to be avoided as it has been and can be misconstrued to the detriment of the Craft.
3. I encourage all Masons to make daily progress in the acquisition of Masonic knowledge. Speculation and discussion within the Landmarks of the Order are to be commended.
4. Within Regular Freemasonry, interpretive discussion and exposition concern only the progressive acquisition of Masonic knowledge towards an understanding of the secrets and mysteries of the Craft, promoting the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God. To avoid any misapprehension, such regular discussion and exposition shall be described as “speculative” and the term “esoteric” shall not be applied.
5. Regular Freemasonry does not permit within it any form of esotericism which encompasses or tends towards – occultism, sorcery, alchemy, astrology, profane mysticism, transcendentalism, supernaturalism, druidism, rosicrucianism, satanism or any concept or movement related to any of these. The presentation, endorsement and/or promotion of such subjects in any Lodge holding under the UGL of NSW and ACT whether the Lodge be open, adjourned, at refreshment or closed or at any connected or associated Lodge function should be deemed irregular and is strictly forbidden.
6. Any breach of this Edict constitutes serious unmasonic conduct and shall be treated accordingly.
7. The Grand Master from time to time may grant dispensations to permit the presentation of papers on esotericism which would otherwise constitute a breach of this edict. A dispensation may be granted on such terms and conditions as the Grand Master may impose. An application for a dispensation must be made to the Grand Master in writing through the Grand Secretary. Normally it will only be granted if the proposed paper is a genuine and proper piece of masonic research.
COMMENTS FROM BROTHER VICK
From Australia, it appears as the Grand Master has directly defined what is considered ‘esoteric’ within the confines of his definition of Freemasonry. He also outlines what is not “esoteric” as “occultism, sorcery, alchemy, astrology, profane mysticism, transcendentalism, supernaturalism, druidism, rosicrucianism, satanism or any concept or movement related to any of these.”
The argument for this edit was that there were certain lines and teachings occurring that were about as closely related to Freemasonry as I am related to the president of the United States. Charges are that certain Freemasons were using the term ‘esoteric’ as a way to teach/preach non-mainstream religious tendencies and as a recruitment tool within the order.
The glaring issue is that of course this stifles any discussions of the above and how Freemasonry works and is inspired by them. Rosicrucianism for instance is still a topic of debate and its influence on Freemasonry (some believe it was the foundation, others deny that as its foundation on faith, hope and charity). The issue with this edict is that stifles these types of debates, academic research, etc.
On the other hand the use of Freemasonry as a recruiting tactic for some cult should be addressed as it has the potential to bring serious shame to our order.
I don’t believe that this edict was the right approach to curb illegal recruitment, but will cause stagnation in the spiritual growth of a Freemason, no matter path it may take him.
While this ruling was made outside the United States it highlights the direction of Freemasonry in many American jurisdictions. When the Information Age began in the United States many Grand Lodges handled the “computer revolution” poorly. Some restricted Freemasons from owning or operating a Masonic website. Others closed down privately operated Masonic forums and discussion groups by threatening to expel any Mason who refused to knuckle under.
Many Grand Lodges were “Johnny come lately” into the 20th century methods of communication. They, not their individual members, were the last to open Masonic websites. What they did do at first was a very amateurish attempt. To this day some jurisdictions refuse to allow electronic reporting between Grand Lodge and constituent local Lodges.
Even today The Grand Lodge of West Virginia is on a crusade to find out the identity of a certain website that supported Past Grand Master Frank Haas. It has promised to expel each and every Brother involved with that website. The Grand Lodge of Arkansas closed its website and ordered all Masons within its jurisdiction not to E-Mail each other on threat of expulsion.
This seems to be the modern trend – THOUGHT CONTROL. It used to be that Freemasons everywhere would say that no one man speaks for Freemasonry. Now it seems one man does – the Grand Master and he wants to be the only one speaking on behalf of Freemasonry. If this seems farfetched to you ask Brother Tim Bryce of Florida to explain it to you.
“The origins of the Royal Society lie in an “invisible college” of philosophers and scientists who began meeting in the mid-1640s to discuss the ideas of Francis Bacon. Two of the original members of the Royal Society – Sir Robert Moray and Elias Ashmole – were already freemasons by the time the Royal Society was formed. The Society met weekly to witness experiments and discuss what would now be called scientific topics although science then was much more broadly defined and included subjects such as alchemy and astrology.”
So we can see that alchemy and astrology among other disciplines were from a very early age adhered to by some Freemasons. So was Rosicrucianism. Laura Britton tells us:
“Although Rosicrucian ideas influence the Scottish Rite degrees of Freemasonry, the origins of the two orders are distinctly different. Throughout the history of both Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry, each has borrowed from the other, yet they both retain their own symbols and beliefs.”
Now it seems that Masonic censorship is one more weapon in the arsenal of Grand Lodge control.
One has to wonder how the likes of Albert Pike, Albert G. Mackey, Joseph Fort Newton and Carl Claudy would have reacted to their Grand Master banning their “esoteric” writings.
Freemasonry was once the bastion of liberty and independent thought. It used to be that there was no Pope in Freemasonry and that each Freemason could interpret in his own way what Freemasonry meant to him. What distinguished Freemasonry from the control that many houses of worship demanded was that there was no centralized dogma that must be adhered to. Dogma didn’t drive Freemasonry, the absence of dogma – the freedom for many different ideas, many different philosophies and many different interpretations to exist under the same roof was what used to distinguish Freemasonry. It used to be that the nexus of power resided in the local Lodge. Today Grand Lodges have consolidated their power to such an extent that they hold the power of life or death over both individual Lodges and individual Masons.