Review of Freemasonry

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Bro. Jack Buta

When and where did Freemasonry start? How is the craft related to Operative Masons? What happened to the operative Masons?
by W. Bro. Jack Buta MPS
PM Paradise Valley Silver Trowel Lodge #29
Arizona Grand Lodge, USA
32 degree Scottish Rite Mason

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Every Freemason who spends time reading about the history of the craft must eventually ask himself the same questions. When and where did Freemasonry start? How is the craft related to Operative Masons? What happened to the operative Masons? The answers to these questions would require a few more pages than I have space for. However, over the next several issues I will attempt to address these questions.

            Many brothers are of the opinion that Freemasonry began in 1717 in London. However, when viewed in the wider context of the history of the craft this date has very little to do with anything other than the organization of four lodges in London into a Grand Lodge. This concept being copied in various other countries has resulted in some erroneous claims by my fellow Englishmen that early Freemasonry was a wholly English experience.

            The medieval guild of Masons to which Freemasonry was grafted did have a long history in England to be sure. Even the word Freemason was first coined in England. The Old Charges which were developed in England and which were later incorporated into Freemasonry have long been used as an argument to support the English claims. But they were not the origins of Freemasonry. No brothers, based on my readings, Freemasonry came into being in Scotland sometime between the death of Robert Cochrane in 1482 and the death of  the Stuart King James I in 1625.

            It is unfortunate that no documentary evidence has come to light so far that would pinpoint the exact date that Freemasonry started. If there had, many books on the subject would never have been written. That would include of course this minor missive. There is however a significant list of firsts in Freemasonry that point the way. The Schaw Statutes themselves show the earliest attempts at organizing lodges at a national level. It is in Scotland that we find the first non-operative (not actual stonemasons) joining the lodges. Even the Mason Word was a Scottish institution.

            When the eminent English Masonic Historian Robert F. Gould wrote his first History of Freemasonry he first dealt with early Scottish Freemasonry before turning to the English history of the craft. This apparently did not sit too well with his readers as we see in his later The Concise History of Freemasonry it is given a back seat being discussed only after the Story of the Guild in England, Masons Marks and even The Legends of the Craft.

In 1944, G. Knoop and G. P Jones two men from my home county of Lancashire England in their book The Scope and Method of Masonic History did attempt to stress the importance of the Scottish contribution to the making of Freemasonry. However, they studied it from their decidedly English perspective and still regarded Freemasonry as an English experience. So it is left to yet another Englishman to set sail and point the bow of our little ship as close to the wind as I can, and sail into yet another controversial storm.

            The place to begin any story is at the beginning. In history however, you must begin at a point where you can identify the thread of your topic and pick it up from there. In this case, we start with a stone mason who became so popular that a King honored him by making him a noble and on whom he conferred the titles of 'The Earl of Mar' and 'Secretary of State'. The place was Scotland the King was King James III and the time was 1482. The Mason was one Robert Cochrane and he was already the King's Master Mason and might have been the architect of the Great Hall in Stirling Castle. This act demonstrates that it was a Mason who first moved up into upper class of society long before gentlemen of distinction became curious about the craft. This elevation in rank incensed the nobility since they were of the opinion that no man of such low birth should ever be given a title, no matter how much he deserved it. In July 1482 King James assembled his army on the Burgh Muir. When the army reached Lauder, a small town south of Edinburgh, the nobles (led by Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus) rebelled and seized Cochrane and several others. They hanged Cochrane at Lauder Bridge and, thereafter, imprisoned the King in Edinburgh Castle.

            By hanging Cochrane, the very nobles who wanted to get rid of him, raised him to the stature of a martyr. Had they left him alone he and the stonemasons might never have attracted the interest and aroused the curiosity of future generations of the upper classes in this craft that had produced such a man.  In life, Robert Cochrane built stately edifices. In death, he might have laid the foundation stone of a worldwide fraternity. Of course, that is just my opinion.

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The sixteenth century is that period of history when man climbed out of the Middle Ages and took his first tentative steps into what we call the Modern Age. It is also the most probable starting point for Freemasonry to have begun. Most researchers point to the Reformation as being the critical event. However, I believe that the ideas behind Freemasonry started a lot earlier.

To quote an old adage "Necessity is the mother of invention" and man reaches his highest potential under times of greatest adversary. With this as a premise, I direct your attention to the three inquisitions of the Catholic Church against the spread of heresy.

Pope Gregory IX instituted the papal inquisition back in 1231 AD. This was the one that Philip "The Fair" used to get rid of the Knights Templar and later in 1431 it is used to burn Joan of Arc at the stake.

Pope Sixtus IV authorized the second inquisition, the infamous Spanish Inquisition, in 1478. In 1521 only the protection of the German prince Kurfursten Friedrich the III, saves a young Augustinian monk named Martin Luther from suffering this same fate.

Alarmed by the spread of Protestantism and especially by its penetration into Italy, Pope Paul III in 1542 establishes in Rome the congregation of the Inquisition also known as the Roman Inquisition. The venerable institution of "one man, one vote" is still 330 years in the future and the common man is an indentured servant in the last days of a feudal age.

In Rome a new pope takes over the Catholic Church in 1492. His papal name is Alexander VI. He is perhaps better known to many as Rodrigo Borgia, the infamous patriarch of the Borgia clan. He turns the papacy into a brothel as the Church hits a new low. The world is about to change drastically. The fire that Luther will ignite in Western Europe had already been smoldering for hundreds of years. The kindling already laid in place by another German 44 years previously. In 1456 Gutenberg issues the first edition of the Bible printed from movable type in Mainz.

Books, those arch-enemies of tyranny, begin to disseminate ideas that awaken the long submerged desires in man for personal freedom. These ideas are no strangers to the Stone Masons. These highly skilled master builders had been working between the two classes for hundreds of years. The nobility seek their skills and expertise but keeps them oppressed and as historic records indicate, rarely pay a fair price for their work. Generation after generation the ruling classes enacts laws restricting the rights of the masons to charge a fair wage. The Peasant Revolt in late 13th century is only one of many such uprisings led by the building trades. Masons, men who can readily grasp the spatial concepts of geometry and conceive designs of structures not yet built were ready repositories for such radical beliefs. The stage is set. But how did non-operative "Freemasons" develop out of this guild of Stonemasons?

There are no records that identify this development. No written statement that on this day "James A. Brown" joined the guild and became the first Freemason. Why would there be? It was not important at that time and still has very little significance today. History however, does give us some indication of how it probably happened. Stonemasons were employed by the rich and powerful. They were the only ones who could afford the services of a mason. Since we lower class have a long history of sucking up to our bosses the following conversation is not too hard to imagine.

"Here Lad, By Gum, that (wall, castle, etc.  .) looks  bloody marvelous. I wish I could do that" The noble remarked whilst sitting on 'is 'orse quite proper an' all.

"Well guv", replies yon Mason, flicking a lump of mortar off 'is trowel, "If yer lordship likes, you can come down to Lodge and I can teach yer some of our secrets, we'll throw in 'onorary Mason as well.' Course," He added with a knowing smile, "It will cost you a few bob"

"Honorary Mason eh!" The (earl, bishop, baron, king) said, "Now I do like that!"

The old boy, after attending a few meetings at the lodge, wastes no time in impressing his fellow nobles with his new experience "'It's like bloody magic!"

Ah, could this be the birth of esoteric Masonry as well?

Perhaps, things did not happen this way but next time we will look at what we do have records for and I will propose my theory for exactly how Freemasonry began. Maybe, I might be able to persuade you to my way of looking at the grafting of Freemasonry to the Operating Stonemasons as a result of the kidnapping of a young King of Scotland. Perhaps you might even see  evidence of an active, daring and very secret fraternity thriving in England and Scotland  long before the Grand Lodge opened in 1717.

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While Scotland became more sophisticated the lives of the Stuart Monarchs were still beset with constant plots against their lives. By the time King James VI became King James I of England he had survived the rule of four regents, the influence of his cousin sent by the French to bring Scotland back to Catholicism, ten months of imprisonment by Presbyterians led by William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie which led to a hatred between the king and the Presbyterian General Assembly. Even his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, who had been forced into abdication by her illegitimate half-brother Lord James Stewart, Earl of Moray raised an army to dethrone him. After suffering a decisive loss she fled to England only to be imprisoned by her Protestant relative Queen Elizabeth. In true Stuart form Mary continued her involvement in plots and conspiracies now adding Elizabeth to the list of crowns she plotted against.

After escaping from his Presbyterian captors in 1583 King James began to assemble his own shadow army of loyalists who were bound to the king by blood and long standing allegiances. The Presbyterian Lord Gowrie paid the ultimate price for his treason but the king was not strong enough to move against the other lords who were allowed to escape with their lives. The king needed the nobles to govern his unruly kingdom but he was now obsessed with the destruction of the Presbyterians. He began by replacing Presbyterians holding prominent positions with men bound to the throne by strong family ties. One of the first to be replaced was the Master of Works Sir Robert Drummond of Carnock, on December 21st 1583 with William Schaw.

Time passes; King James IV or Scotland becomes King James I of England uniting the two countries for the first time under a Scottish King. At this point there are no extant records in England of any Non-operative stonemasons joining the operative guilds. The earliest records begin in 1620 but in the very first year that we do have records for six non-operatives do join the Worshipful Company of Ffreemasons in London. We have no idea if these are the first ever to do this but it interesting to note that several of these non-operative Masons rose to become Masters of the company. This means that they participated for many years in a company of operative stone masons. A detailed account of their names can be found in Edward Conder’s book ‘Records of the Hole Crafte and Fellowship of Masons’ but it is worthwhile noting that one of the six, John Hince served as Warden in 1626 and in 1628 while he served as Master of the company, Thomas Priestman, another of the six, served as one of his wardens. The kings’ architect, Nicholas Stone served with  a third member of this group,Timothy Townsend as a Warden in 1630. Thomas Priestman would be elected Master of the company in 1636. The timing of all this could of course be nothing more than coincidence.  However, The following is from a scan of a letter written in 1628 which I obtained from the Library of Scotland some time ago.


“the noble fraternitie had our solemne meeting in London, being now (with your self and Adam the Advocate) just forty in number. Wee have taken in sundrie of the bedchamber and others of quality and worth, and haue forever hereafter excluded and discharges to admit of any but his majesties servants; and they also to be of the degree of esquire. Also wee have established laudable and good orders to be observed, under the forfature of certain penalties, whereby wee shall avoyde all manner of excesses, royat and disorder. Whereof my brother Ffullerton wil informe you. Your self and the Advocate was very respectulie and solemnly remembered by the whole companie. These enclosed badges of the noble brothered is to be worne by you and the Advocate about your hatband, until our next meeting which is to be every six months, whereof yu shall always haue notice given yow to keep that day solemnly, at which tyme yee shall have our new badges of favour. This much I was commanded to signifie unto you. “


David Stevenson, in his book Origins of Freemasonry includes this same letter but says it has nothing to do with Freemasonry since he found no other mentions when he researched this same letter. However, if one of the goals of a secret society is to remain secret, then there should not be any references at all to it and this is just a fortunate find.

The letter was sent by Sir David Cunningham, an officer in the Court of King Charles, to his namesake in Scotland David Cunningham of Robertland, telling him of a secret fraternity over 40 loyalist within the highest circle at the royal court in London dedicated to the support of the Scottish king of England. The letter clearly shows that the fraternity has direct ties to both the Royal house and the Edinburgh Lodge of Masons.  The Cunningham’s were cousins to the Hamilton’s. In fact, the mother of James Hamilton first Duke of Hamilton was Anna Cunningham, daughter of the 8th Earl of Glencairn.

 It is important to note that there were three powerful families all related by blood or marriage to the king, the Cunningham’s of Robertsland, the Alexanders of Stirling, and the Hamiltons. James the 1st Duke of Hamilton cousin to both the Cunninghams and the king was also second in line to the throne should anything happen to the Stewarts. Within a few months of Cunningham’s letter the now Earl of Stirling, Sir William Alexander is appointed Secretary of State for Charles I and James Hamilton was made a member of the Privy Council, a Gentleman of the Bedchamber.

On July 3rd 1634 the sons of William Alexander, Anthony and his brother, (William the Younger, listed on the rolls of the lodge as Viscount Canada) along with Sir Alexander Strachan of Thornton, Kincardineshire, who was one of the Commissioners of the Exchequer, become the first non-operative members of the Lodge.  By 1636 Anthony Alexander is appointed Master of Works and the next year is knighted by the king. These are the first recorded non-operative masons to be admitted to a Scottish Lodge of Masons. Had this new secret society now spread to both countries and would it survive a vicious civil war?

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            In 1612 James lost his oldest son Henry to illness. It was the fourth time he had to bury a child. The other three had been infants but Henry was 18 years old and the shock probably brought on the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Whatever the reason just two years later The Archbishop of Canterbury introduced the king to George Villiers who used his own charm and the king’s condition to become the power behind the throne. By 1618 Villiers controlled all of the crowns patronage and was becoming as unpopular as his power grew.

In February 1623 Villiers accompanied Prince Charles to Spain for marriage negotations regarding the Infanta Maria. The negotiations had long been stalled but it is believed that Villiers' crassness was key to the total collapse of agreement. The Spanish ambassador asked Parliament to have Villiers executed for his behaviour in Madrid. Despite this he was made a Duke in his absence and gained popularity by calling for war with Spain on his return. He headed further marriage negotiations but when in 1624 the betrothal to Henrietta Maria of France was announced, the choice of a Catholic was widely condemned. When Charles became king Villiers was the only man to maintain his position from the court of James. When Parliament attempted to impeach him for the failure of the Cádiz expedition in 1625 Charles had the house dissolved in August before they could put Villiers on trial. Civil war was brewing in England. Then in 1628, the same year we hear of a secret society of men, sworn to support the Stewart monarchy Villiers, the most hated man in England, was assassinated by a naval officer John Felton. It is the only time that history records an assassin being cheered as he was led away to jail. A disaster is averted and the monarchy is saved. Is this just another coincidence?

From what records we have of these early Freemasons they all share one commonality. They were soldiers. Men willing to die for their beliefs to take whatever risks were needed to keep a kingdom from descending into the tribal warfare that was tearing at the heart of Europe.

On one occasion with over 50,000 men facing each other war was averted due to the actions of the fraternal brothers on both sides of the conflict. The place was Newcastle and the time was 1641 and in the middle of it all, generals from both sides met to initiate a Covenanter general into the fraternity. He was Sir Robert Moray, professional soldier, spy, statesman, knight, Freemason and we meet him next but before we do let’s examine another Scot who will be one of the witnesses at Moray’s  initiation, his name is James Hamilton, and he is next in line for the throne should anything happen to the Stewarts.

There is no record of when Hamilton became a Mason. He was in France fighting in the  30 Years War while his relatives joined the Edinburgh Lodge in 1634, not returning until 1638. Therefore he would have joined between the time he returned to England and 1641 or before he left for France in 1633. What we know for sure is that James the first Duke of Hamilton was one of the few men, along with Moray, that King Charles trusted. When Hamilton returned to England in 1638 Charles made him Commissioner for Scotland. His first job was to try to stem the riots caused by Charles forcing an Anglican prayer book upon the Scottish churches.  It was a disaster but with Hamilton away there had been no one to stop the headstrong Charles from taking this provocative action.No amount of work on Hamilton's part could stop the rebellion.

In 1640 Alexander Leslie advanced into England at the head of a covenanter army defeating the Royalist at Newburn and holding Newcastle. In the spring of 1641 Hamilton traveled to Newcastle to attempt to reach a settlement with the Covenanters. He found himself face to face with two other recently returned veterans of the 30 Years War his friend Robert Moray and his cousin Alexander Hamilton both of whom had been made Generals under Leslie. Alexander was already a member of the Edinburgh lodge and sympathetic to retaining the monarchy. Between them they convinced Moray that a Scot on the throne of England was better than a religious Republic. In March he agreed to join the secret fraternity and on May 20th joined the Lodge of Edinburgh while still at Newcastle. The three Generals were able to convince Leslie to withdraw and the first Bishops war ended.

One final fact to consider in regards to this much maligned Royalist is that after his capture in 1648 during a failed attempt to rescue his king Hamilton was given a chance to go free by Lord Cromwell. All he had to do was to tell Cromwell who is allies were in England and he could return to Scotland after paying a fine of  1500 pounds. Hamilton chose to lay down his life rather than forfeit his integrity. He might have been the model for Hiram Abiff.


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Before becoming a Freemason and Statesman, Robert Moray was first a professional soldier of great ability. He served with the Scottish Foot Guards in France during the most destructive religious war ever to engulf Europe. During the 30 Years War, he rose to the level of full Colonel before he was 30. Here amid the carnage his ability to meet people on the level and gain their trust and confidence drew men to him. A natural leader of men, he came to the notice of the French Prime Minister Cardinal Richelieu.

Moray, according to Alexander Robertson’s book The Life and Times of Sir Robert Moray: Solder, Statesman and Man of Science, became the Cardinal’s agent and after Richelieu’s death was an agent for the Jesuit educated  Cardinal Mazarin who ruled France until his death in 1661.Was Moray a secret Catholic carrying messages between the Catholic Cardinal and King Charles? Whatever his beliefs were, he was able to subdue them to the higher cause of peace, harmony and brotherly love. He seemed to have no enemies and many friends, a rare occurrence in a savage time.

 The initiation of Moray into the Edinburgh Lodge is extraordinary not only in view of time and place, a castle awaiting a battle, but in light of those who were present. James Hamilton 1st Duke of Hamilton who had raised the army of Scots that had gone to France. He was also privy councilor and in 1638 he was the Crowns commissioner in Scotland trying to conciliate the Covenanters. At the time of the initiation he was leading the kings army against them. Yet here he is, miles way from his troops and in the company of two Covenanter Generals, Moray and Alexander Hamilton and the son of the Master Mason to the Crown John Mylne. These men separated by loyalty but united by masonry were a mix or operative and  non-operatives masons. They were as Sir Robert Moray describes himself Freemasons

It is also interesting to note that following this initiation the much anticipated battle between the king and the Covenanters did not happen. It was resolved by negotiation. All of which only strengthens the case for the  Fraternity being formed prior to 1628.

Unfortunately space does not permit an in-depth look at Sir Robert Moray. It would take me six months of articles to cover the subject. I do recommend chapter 7 in Stevenson’s The Origins of Freemasonry. This chapter details some of his Freemason activities on behalf of the King. It also gives the story behind his choosing the pentagram from his family crest as his Mason’s Mark.

Things did not fare too well for the early Freemasons. The fraternity could not protect King Charles from himself. His biggest error was in ignoring the right of the Scottish people to have their own prayer book and worship in their own way. Had he been less prideful and more realistic he would not have lost the Civil War. Despite all of the hoopla, the war turned not on Cromwells model army, for Prince Rupert had been victorious against Cromwell and beating him at almost every turn. Charles only began to lose when the Covenants entered the war in 1644 on the side of Cromwell.

Turning back to my argument that the secret Fraternity that surfaced in 1628 was indeed Freemasonry let’s recap. In 1628  we see connections of this secret fraternity to the masons of Scotland. In 1641 at Newcastle we see even stronger evidence of a masonic based organization working on both sides of the war (the same way we see them later in our own civil war). In Moray’s own letters he talks of taking on spy missions in Scotland  “. . . playing the mason . . .” writing reports in invisible ink under his masons mark.. In 1643 King Charles knights Moray a Covenanter general, a man with no land to assist the king. Why? What was in it for the king unless it was to reward a loyal subject for his secret work.

After the King was defeated in 1645 and captured Moray and his brother William made plans for his escape from Newcastle. The plan was for the king dress as a commoner and escape via a boat that William Moray had brought to the castle wall.  The King however was more concerned of being discovered in a disguise than in freedom. He returned to his quarters and was executed in 1649. It was an act of loyalty that was not forgotten by King Charles II and in 1661 William was also Knighted and later became Master of Works. Of course, all of this may be the result of a great many coincidences all coming together at this particular point in time. I choose to believe otherwise.

Where there no English Freemasons in the 17th century? Obviously there were. We know of the initiation of Elias Ashmole in 1646 at Warrington in Lancashire but next time I will make a case for the recruitment of Freemasons in a place you might not expect the Roundheads.


For an in depth look at the Covenants read A concise History of Scotland by Fitzroy Maclean I am also indebted to Richard S. Westfall, Department of History and Philosophy of Science Indiana University whose outline on Sir Robert Moray pointed me in the right direction.

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The problem with writing a book where the predetermined goal is to support one position over another is that you usually paint yourself into a corner at some point. Which is exactly what David Stevenson did in The Origins of Freemasonry. He builds a case for Scottish Freemasonry’s dominion over English Freemasonry by stating that entered apprentices existed only in Scotland prior to 1700. Here he mixes operative masonry with speculative Freemasonry and fails to take into consideration Queen Elizabeth’s Apprentice Statute on 1563 which made it illegal for any person to enter a craft without first becoming an apprentice.

Just because we do not have a written record of an event does not mean it did not happen.  It only means we do not have documentation that it did. Sometimes it requires deductive reasoning and thoughtful conclusions. Suppose you found coral jewelry in the artifacts of an American Plains Indian tribe.  You have no documented proof of contact with coastal Indians but you can make a reasonable assumption that the coral did not get there by itself. Let’s look at the American Bill of Rights.

In 1776 we know at least one third of the framers of the American Bill of Rights and Constitution were Freemasons. We also know that the following ideas were included in these important documents.

Right to for all people to vote for their representatives

Right against self-incrimination

Freedom of religion and press

Equality of all persons before the law

No judgment touching life, liberty or property but by jury trial

Abolition of capital punishment except for murder

No military conscription of conscientious objectors

No monopolies, tithes, or excise taxes

Taxation proportionate to real or personal property

Grading of punishments to fit the crime

Abolition of imprisonment for debt


But where did these ideas spring from? They came not from the Highlands of Scotland but from the lowlands of England. The author was Lt. Colonel John Lilbourne AKA “freeborn” John, a Roundhead officer in Cromwell’s army. He is the only man in History to be put in the Tower of London not once but three times and walk free on every occasion because the Lords of England could find no Judge or jury to convict him. Read what he has to say for himself.

“Yet thus have we been misconceived and misrepresented to the world, under which we must suffer till God sees it fitting in his good time to clear such harsh mistakes, by which many, even good, men keep a distance from us . . .

Whereas it is said, we are atheists and antiscripturalists, we profess that we believe there is one eternal and omnipotent God, the author and preserver of all things in the world. To whose will and directions, written first in our hearts and afterwards in his blessed Word, we ought to square our actions and conversations.” .

On the execution of King Charles I “I refused to be one of his (Charles I) judges... they were no better than murders in taking away the King's life even though he was guilty of the crimes he was charged with... it is murder because it was done by a hand that had no authority to do it.”

One of the amazing aspects of his struggle with Oliver Cromwell was that they were once close friends and Cromwell actually believed in many of Lilburne’s ideas. For his efforts against the egregious acts of the Nobility Lilburne was branded a communists just as the Freemasons would be during the French Revolution. His followers derided as “levelers”.

From 1637 when he was but twenty-three years old… until his death twenty years later, he managed to keep his government in a hectic state. In successive order he defied king, parliament, and protectorate, challenging each with libertarian principles. Standing trial for his life four times, he spent most of his adult years in prison and died in banishment. Yet he could easily have had positions of high preferment if he had thrown in his lot with Parliament of Cromwell. Instead, he sacrificed everything in order to be free to attack injustice from any source. He once accurately described himself as ‘an honest true-bred, freeborn Englishman that never in his life loved a tyrant or feared an oppressor.’

There is no record of Lilburne ever becoming a Freemason but there is ample evidence that he espoused the same kind of beliefs. His followers also met in reading rooms and Taverns. Then of course you have to ask yourself, how did so much of his manifesto for constitutional reform in Britain end up being so deeply embodied in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights? They did not get there by themselves.

No matter what you believe you must allow that England in the 17th century was fertile ground for the growth of Freemasonry. Does Freemasonry really have it’s roots in western Europe or has there been such an organization existing  under a variety of names within civilization since the time of the Egyptians? Can we say with any certainty when Freemasonry really began? Albert Pike in the lecture of the 13th  Degree of the Scottish Rite states:

  “But, by whatever name it was known in this or the other country, Masonry has existed as it now exists, the same in spirit and at heart, not only when Solomon built the temple, but centuries before--before the first colonies emigrated into Southern India, Persia, and Egypt, from the cradle of the human race.”

It works for me.

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