In his excellent
book, The Craft: History of English Freemasonry, John Hamill (Curator and
Librarian of the Library and Museum of the United Grand Lodge of England) gives
us an outline of the different approaches taken by scholars, academics and
Masonic writers regarding the theories of origin of the Craft.
There are two main
groups of theorists: those who take a strict academic approach and will refer to
1717 as the date that is closest to the origins of Freemasonry and those who
have a more mystical take on the subject and relate Freemasonry to the Ancient
Mysteries, Egypt, Alchemy, Gnosticism etc. Some even placing the Craft within
the context of a syncretistic, New age mysticism.
appears that the view taken by most current historicists of the Craft like
Quatour Coronati Lodge of research and the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and
Yukon is historically sound and factual and this view argues that speculative
Freemasonry might have derived from operative lodges of freemasons, Box clubs
and suchlike organizations. These assertions are laid out with the full weight
of historical evidence behind them and must be taken seriously.
This is a
reaction, a more than justified reaction one could argue, to the fanciful and at
times almost fantastic theories expounded by many XIX and XX Century writers
like Waite, Pike, Ward, Palmer Hall etc.
Perhaps this is
also due to a willingness by the current Grand Lodge administrations to discard
the links with the occult tradition that freemasonry has always had. For many
masons and non-masons alike words like occult have a pejorative ring to them.
Writers like Manly
Palmer Hall make a direct connection between Freemasonry, the Mysteries and
Druidism. Albert G. Mackey links the Craft with the Mysteries of Osiris and
Eleusis and the Dionysian artificers. Whereas a great part of these theories is
based on historic evidence and is the product of extensive research, to state
that Freemasonry is the heir of the Ancient Mysteries and in some cases to link
it with Eastern philosophy and religion is simply farfetched and lacks truth at
least in a literal sense.
like Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas argue that there is a direct connection
between Freemasonry, the Knight Templars and the ancient Egyptian mysteries and
go as far as to describe Jesus and his Apostles as early Freemasons. This sounds
preposterous in itself with the added problem that it conflicts directly with
one of Freemasonry’s most basic tenets, namely that freemasonry isn’t a
religion and isn’t a form of esoteric Christianity nor has a Christian bias in
spite of the fact that it relies on Biblical based myths.
Men from all
religious backgrounds can be initiated so long as they believe in a Supreme
Being of their choice and I feel that this is one of Freemasonry’s most
important and biggest appeals. Authors like Knight and Lomas (and Waite before
them) jeopardize this important aspect of the Craft.
authors, like Tobias Churton are able to link Freemasonry (or some of its ideals
and components) with Gnosticism and Alchemy, placing Freemasonry within the
context of the Western esoteric tradition without losing an iota of academic
respectability and coherence. Churton shares some of the romanticism of earlier
Masonic writers with a scholarly approach that works very well in providing a
It isn’t the
purpose of this essay to provide a theory of origin but merely to point out that
Freemasonry is many things to many different people and that in order to adhere
to the “Ancient Landmarks of the order” we must also adhere to historical
fact. If we let our imagination run wild, we risk damaging the reputation of
Freemasonry as a whole, which has already been maligned by Para-Masonic groups
that have made inappropriate use of the Masonic degree framework and aesthetics
for their own purposes and thus hindered the reputation of Freemasonry in the
Having said that,
I personally do believe that Freemasonry belongs to the Western Mystery
Tradition and I use the word Mystery rather than occult or esoteric in order to
avoid any sinister connotations although the meaning of the three terms, in this
context, is almost interchangeable.
There isn’t and
can’t, be a direct continuum between the Ancient mysteries and Freemasonry, at
least not in a historical, factual and successive way as any mason will realize
once he has been initiated.
There are no
ancient secrets passed down from Egyptian Magi at Masonic initiation or rituals.
What is imparted during these rituals is a method of self-discovery and
In a nutshell, the
Western Mystery tradition is a body of societies, fraternities and associations
of men that have been functioning since the dawn of civilization and in very
different circumstances but that make use of allegory and ritual to impart their
particular teachings, which are usually of a moral and spiritual nature. In this
general sense, I believe Freemasonry to be part of this Mystery-esoteric-Occult
And there is an
implicit intention in the ritual and the symbols employed to link freemasonry
with the ancient past. Let’s remember the
opening line of the First degree tracing board or the analogies of the East and
the Sun amongst many other references of the kind that can be found in Masonic
ritual. That these mustn’t be taken literally is obvious but it does show a
certain willingness on behalf of the brothers who wrote the ritual to place our
order in the context of a very particular tradition.
Mysteries concerned themselves with self–improvement and self-knowledge and
the Gnostics held the belief that we all share a Divine spark that is within us
and that we can and must attain via the use of “inner knowledge”. Alchemy,
as Freemasonry, is a speculative Art and makes use of symbols to illustrate its
ideas and tenets.
There isn’t a
direct successive line between all the different schools that form part of the
Western Mystery tradition, but there are links amongst them which mustn’t be
taken too seriously but that, by the same token, shouldn’t be disregarded