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Freemasonry and Brotherhood

First International Masonology Simposium

23 October 2009, Ankara


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StarRed Special Project 2012 Turkey
The Centenary Celebrations 1909-2009

MW Bro Remzi Sanver
On the 23rd of October 2009 an international Masonology Symposium was assembled in Ankara under the title of “Freemasonry and Brotherhood”. The symposium was sponsored by the Grand Lodge of Turkey within the framework of The Centenary Celebrations. The Grand Lodge of Turkey did not intervene in the academic aspects of the symposium asides from determining the title, in other words, the subjects discussed were shaped independently from the Grand Lodge. In fact, the term “Masonology” is reminiscent of such an independence. It is obvious that Freemasonry is a research topic of academic historiography and furthermore the academic inspection of Freemasonry is not limited with its own historical dimensions. In the second half of the 20th Century disciplines like philosophy, sociology, law, psychology and political science have included Freemasonry in their areas of research. Although this happened in distinct aspects, it has become a field of attraction in many universities where research centers have been established to inspect this discipline all over the world. Consequently, the term “Masonology” has been proposed with a meaning of “researching Masonic history by scientific methods”, today, it has turned into “researching Masonry, with all its aspects, by scientific methods”. The purpose here is not to prove that Freemasonry is a science but the concept of Freemasonry is being inspected by many Mason or non-Mason scholars using scientific methods.
MW Bro M. Remzi Sanver, Grand Master


Celil Layiktez

by W Bro Celil Layiktez & MW Bro M. Remzi Sanver

© No part of this paper may be reproduced without written permission from the The Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Turkey. HTML code is property of PS Review of Freemasonry. Project Co-Editor: W Bro Tony Pope. All rights reserved ©
M. Remzi Sanver

Freemasonry had a Christian start, but with the Napoleonic wars and the colonial policies of the Victorian era, a liberal evolution in the philosophical views of the craft developed. This evolution was not uniform. Some Grand Lodges completely removed religious references from their rituals, some fully christianised their rituals, while others opened up to all religions. The existence of these contradictory practices in the Masonic world leads us to revalue the definition of the term the Grand Architect of the Universe and reapraise its place and function in an analytic way. Such an evaluation will force the discussion of various philosophical currents in the history of Freemasonry.
One of these major currents is esoterism. Actually, education in the operative times centered around work ethics, quality control, control of competition and good social behaviour. Secrecy was required to protect the signs showing that one was belonging to a certain guild. Wherever there is some mysticism and secrecy, one can always speak of a minimal level of esoterism. On the other side, speculative freemasonry became a place where people could balance the new mechanistic universe with a rising esoterism. This metamorphosis happened in different ways in Anglo-Saxon countries and Continental Europe. These different ways brought differences to masonic approaches relative to beliefs. One way, dismissing completely esoterism and the idea of a Grand Architect with it, was at the start of irregularity; another way which developed to its christian esoterism, was the foundation of the Swedish rite. We shall not discuss here the irregular grand lodges as they are refusing categorically one of the pillars of Freemasonry: a belief in a Supreme Being. The other group, by rendering esoterism religious, is tearing it off at its roots, acting against the Masonic belief of a universal brotherhood. However, esoterism should be independent from religiosity: It is a heterodox school of thought based on expression through symbolism and it is not just a system of rising degrees, of rewarding titles, nor a religious concept. In fact, in a world where a clash of civilisations due to religious differences urgently needs to be substituted by an intercultural humanism, an understanding of Freemasonry which adopts an esotericism free of such defects can be the vector of intercultural humanism and international brotherhood, as well as "the Center of Union among Persons that must have remained at a perpetual Distance".

Determining the Problematic


Discussions in Freemasonry on the necessity of Belief dates back to the birth of Speculative Freemasonry. All the mass of very informative material on Freemasonry gathered during the seventeenth century can be disposed in a few words: They contain no intimation of any religious dogma, requirements, ceremonies, rites or ritualistic practices....After the schism of the Grand Lodge of England, great many churchmen contributed to the extension of religious dogma and church atmosphere in the Fraternity. At times this went too far and the religious element was deliberately modified or restricted. The predecessors of the United Grand Lodge of England  had been leading innovators in the religious field and even in introducing Christian symbolism, but following the Union of 1813, it revised its rituals, removing all Christian implications, abandoning the Johannite theme and adopting the Solomonic. [1] English Freemasonry needed almost a century to compromise these controversies, which were mostly based on sectarian differences. Nevertheless, shortly after the settlement in 1813, Freemasonry internationally experienced a new disagreement based on Belief: On 1872 the Grand East of Belgium and on 1877 the Grand East of France disposed of the necessity of Belief, leading to another disagreement; one that is global, profound and permanent.


Such disagreements and separations, experienced during the birth and development of Speculative Freemasonry, have implications reaching the present day. As we will discuss shortly, the worldwide panorama of Freemasonry today comprises a notable variety. As this variety contains certain contradictions as well, their outcome outgrew the cohabitation of dissimilar understandings and resulted in some Grand Lodges rejecting certain systems of Belief, and occasionally, each other.


This occurrence promoted the view that for Freemasonry, Belief is discriminative with a negative connotation, i.e., that it has a separating rather than unifying function. Our aim is to question this thesis by analysing the function of Belief in Freemasonry. By postulating a correlation between the conception of Esotericism and the positioning regarding Belief that Grand Lodges do admit, we conclude that:


a) The schismatic function of Belief in Freemasonry takes its source from the unsound understanding of Esotericism adopted by certain Grand Lodges;


b) An approach to Belief based on a methodology of Esotericism compatible with the accumulation of scientific knowledge of the 21st century will have a positively differentiating function, i.e., will differentiate what is Sacred from what is Profane;


c) An understanding of Freemasonry which can differentiate between “Sacred” and “Profane" can be the vector of intercultural Humanism and international brotherhood, as well as “the centre of union among persons that would otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance”.


In Section 2, we describe the worldwide panorama regarding the approach to Belief that Grand Lodges do adopt. In Section 3, we analyse the theoretical relationship between Esotericism and Belief. This analysis leads to an assessment which we present in Section 4, within the context of the relationship between Freemasonry and Humanism.



2. Determining the Worldwide Panorama


It is a fact that, at its outset, Speculative Freemasonry exhibited a Christian character. After all, Operative Freemasons were building cathedrals to the glory of God and for the Church. James Anderson, the author of the Constitution, was a priest and an esteemed member of his Church. The Constitution was written in an era where the religious wars within Christianity had recently ended; England had just overcome the enduring struggle between Catholics and Protestants; Republicans and Monarchists. Within this climate, Freemasonry formed a ground beyond religious and political tensions. In fact, such an understanding is reflected by the clause of the Anderson’s Constitutions on a Freemason’s charges towards God and religion, which states that: “But though in ancient Times Masons were charged in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet it is now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguished”. There is no data to indicate that, in writing this statement, James Anderson had Judaism, Islam or the religions of Far East in mind. Although he was accused to take a deistic point of view because of these expressions, it is realistic to think that “Religion in which all Men agree” refers to Christianity with all its denominations.[2]


Freemasonry had a Christian outset, but with the Napoleonic wars and the colonial policies of the Victorian era, a liberal evolution in the philosophical views of the Craft gradually developed. During the colonialist expansion, Freemasonry was seen as a means to control the local administrators and intellectuals; as a result non-Christians were admitted as well. In early 20th century, the term “Bible” was replaced with “the Volume of the Sacred Law”.[3]


This evolution of approaches towards religion was not uniform. Some Grand Lodges completely removed religious references from their rituals; some fully Christianised their rituals, while others opened up to all religions. Hence, the worldwide panorama of Freemasonry exhibited significant differences on Belief and religion. On one extreme were Grand Lodges which disposed of the concept of the Grand Architect of the Universe, and on the other were those which laboured with Christian rites. What we mean by “Christian rite” is a Masonic system which does not accept non-Christians into membership.

The prominent examples of such rites are the Swedish Rite and the Rectified Scottish Rite. Today, within regular Freemasonry, there are Grand Lodges whose jurisdiction admits lodges working in Christian rites. Among these, one can cite the United Grand Lodges of Germany (Swedish Rite)[4], The Provincial Grand Lodge of Sweden in Finland (Swedish Rite)[5], National Grand Lodge of France (GLNF) (Rectified Scottish Rite)[6], Grand Lodge of Sweden (Swedish Rite), Grand Lodge of Iceland (Swedish Rite), Grand Lodge of Denmark (Swedish Rite)[7] , Grand Lodge of Norway (Swedish Rite). Moreover, as the cases of Sweden, Norway and Iceland exemplify, some of these Grand Lodges only admit Lodges working in Christian rites. Hence, though visitation of non-Christian Freemasons is possible, non-Christians cannot be members of any of their Lodges.[8]  


It is possible to explain this situation by historical or other arguments. However, none of these will change the fact that in the 21st Century, religious discrimination is deemed to be acceptable within regular Freemasonry.



3. Belief and Esotericism


Our claim is that religious discrimination is as contradictory to Freemasonry as racial discrimination [9] . Yet, the removal of the obligation of Belief would be the categorical refusal of one of the founding stones of the Craft. In order to support our apparently paradoxical approach, we shall evaluate the function of the concept of the “Grand Architect of the Universe” from an analytical perspective. Such an evaluation should refer to the philosophical paths which influenced the historic evolution of Freemasonry - the leading one being Esotericism.


The Guilds which existed throughout the Operative period of Freemasonry were professional craft organisations which could be compared to the trade unions of today. Their aims were to care for the welfare of their members, to provide them with professional and social education, to certify their competency, to attend to the quality control of the finished products, and to regulate the relations between the employers and the employees. We can deduce from the Old Charges that education was primarily on work ethics, quality control, keeping competition in check, and good manners. It is obvious that this structure contained a mystical character; originating from the attributes of the profession supported by the pagan legacy of the Craft and the religious rituals that framed the workers’ social life. Furthermore, as most people were illiterate back then, and diplomas bearing signatures and stamps were non-existent,  Freemasonry was an entirely oral tradition and the certification of proficiency in the Craft, which would permit the mason to work in foreign lands, was based on signs and passwords which had to be secret - thus adding an aura of mystery to the Craft. Wherever mysticism and secrecy co-exist, a certain amount of Esotericism is in question, although one cannot say that Operative Freemasonry was “esoteric” in the sense that the word is perceived today [10].


Yet, during Operative Freemasonry’s evolution into Speculative Freemasonry, traditional esoteric concepts and values were imported. Freemasonry, with an increasing philosophical function, was transformed into an institution where a mechanical world could be balanced with an input of esoteric research. This process started in the second half of the 17th century, continued throughout the 18th, and evolved differently in the Anglo-Saxon world and Continental Europe. In the former, experiments in Esotericism started with the establishment of the Master Mason’s degree, the installation ceremony of the Worshipful Master and the arrival of the Royal Arch rituals.  In the latter, this new garment for Freemasonry was overflowed with myths originating from Ancient Egyptian, Hellenistic, Templar, Rosicrucian, even Islamic Sufi sources, resulting in an exponential growth of degrees.


When we observe the entirety of the situation from the various angles involved, the claim that “Freemasonry is an esoteric institution” would not be an accurate description. For throughout history, the concept of Esotericism involved different-but-related forms such as Gnosticism, Occultism, Hermetism, Sufism, Neo-Platonism, magic, astrology, alchemy, theosophy, illuminism, Mesmerism, Rosicrucianism, Swedenborgianism. Similarly, under the conceptual roof of Esotericism, we see many differing schools of thought, ranging from Pythagoreanism to Alchemy, from Zoroastrianism to Buddhism, from Kabbalah to Islamic Mysticism. In fact, each of these institutions had its own particular interpretation and application of Esotericism which, in its broadest sense, can be seen as “the endeavour of reaching the “Sacred” by solving the mystery of the universe”. This is valid for Freemasonry as well: Freemasonry has its own understanding of Esotericism which even differs among various Masonic organisations. [11]


There is a direct relationship between the accepted definition of Esotericism and the attitude towards “Sacred”. A categorical refusal of Esotericism eliminates any strive towards the “Sacred”. On the other hand, looking at Esotericism through the window of religion limits the “Sacred” with the concepts of the religion in question. Both of these approaches are problematic. We shall examine them in turn.


In a system founded on reasoning by symbols and using initiation as a method, the refusal to strive for the mystery of the universe and thus to reach the “Sacred”, is in contradiction with the “raison d’être” of the system: Systems of initiations are, by definition, based on the idea of differentiating the “Sacred” from the “Profane”. Thus, the abandoning of the obligation of Belief, and therefore the suppression of referring to the Sacred, is the categorical refusal of one of the existential conditions of Freemasonry.


On the other hand, Esotericism is not a religious concept. For, its methodology based on thinking through symbols postulates that our understanding of the universe is limited by the meaning we attribute to things and concepts; hence for one to fully perceive the universe one is required to abandon all fixed definitions (or “to search for the invisible under the visible” with the traditional expression of Esotericism). This is an openly heterodox approach, incompatible with dogmatism. To look at Esotericism from a religious point of view is in contradiction to its basic methodology, and hence, to the many basic values of Freemasonry, starting with Brotherhood.


Thus, the dividing role of Belief in Freemasonry is due to the problematic relations between Freemasonry and Esotericism. After all, Esotericism is a complex system of methods, inclusive of initiation, whose meaning and function is attributed by the human intellect. While the general perception of science has changed immensely since the 18th century, due to the developments in science itself, it is not possible for the definition of Esotericism to remain stagnant. The principal question facing Freemasonry in the 21st century is how to link its understanding of Esotericism to the accumulated scientific knowledge of the new era.


In any case, initiation being a personal transcendental struggle, systems of initiation all refer to a supremacy; they postulate the existence of an unknown on inapproachable. Thus, they are preoccupied by the theological or intentional question of “Why?” which is, by definition, beyond the scope of science, and, as such, show their members a direction for the search of Truth; as the Worshipful Master states in the Wedding Re-Confirmation Ceremony, performed in the rituals of the Grand Lodge of Turkey: "The stars and the universe we can or cannot see are ruled by an inviolable order which we call the Grand Architect of the Universe”.


What is important is to conceive the Grand Architect of the Universe as a reference point which enables the working of the system, and not to impose it as dogma. With this reference, each Freemason has his own concept of God; which could be God as defined by Christianity, as well as an infinite, absolute and perfect Truth that Man sees transcending his Self. Therefore, there is not -and cannot be- a Masonic definition of God. On the contrary, Freemasonry, accepting candidates’ Belief in a Supreme Being, teaches them to answer all metaphysical questions with their own conscience. Accordingly, there is no place for dogmas, prejudices and ready-made formulae. Every individual Brother faces his own conscience, and has to answer his questions by himself, through the help of mind and wisdom, and without using other peoples’ arguments. Otherwise, it would be as if Freemasonry was offering a pre-conceived formula, a dogma or a doctrine, in order to find the Truth. That would be contrary to the principles of symbolism, the aim of initiation, and the very reason as to why Freemasonry exists in the first place.


From this perspective, Belief becomes positively discriminative: it differentiates the “Sacred” from the “Profane”, and establishes a unifying ground for those who wish to advance towards the “Sacred”.



4. Conclusion: Humanism and Freemasonry


The Encyclopaedia of Islam on the Internet defines Humanism as a philosophy having its roots in ancient Hellenistic and Latin texts, adding that it is atheist, materialist and against Islam. For us Freemasons, Humanism is a “system of thought which values human dignity and achievements”.


From Aristotle and Erasmus to Camus and Sartre, Humanism has been a reaction to scholasticism. We can define Humanism as human effort striving to eliminate the contradictions arising in the search for Truth through the use of reason and wisdom. Fundamentally, modern Humanism has been triggered by the Church opposing Enlightenment in the 18th and science in the 19th centuries. Humanism is not a religion; it refuses dogma, and maintains that human beings must decide on their own principles of life and the way to live. [12]


We would like to repeat here Sartre’s spiritual definition of Humanism: “There are two possible definitions for Humanism. According to one theory, Humanism accepts humanity both as a superior entity and as a goal in itself. This kind of Humanism is absurd, for only horses and dogs could evaluate man as a whole, claiming that he is successful, good and superior minded. And I suppose that they don’t have such an intention....  The other definition of Humanism claims that man is continuously striving to transcend himself. Man can only exist if he pursues targets transcending him”. Didn’t Aristo claim that “it would be a betrayal to claim that only humanity is fitting for mankind”. [13]


If one believes in the power of the human intellect, one should also be convinced that man, through its use, will eventually be able to comprehend the world. It is a pity to assume that men are brothers only because they are all children to the same father-god. The Tracing Board of the Entered Apprentice Degree illustrates how fraternal feelings could transcend countries and embrace Humanity.


Huntington has made an unfortunate prophecy, suggesting that there will be a “clash of civilisations”. As the radical segments of all religions fiercely defend their dogma to the very end, it seems not possible to develop ethical values based on religious tolerance. Yet, rapid communication through the internet and the ease of access to information through its use, the fraternal feelings engendered overseas by sports, the joint search for the global tragedies of our times, the flourishing tourism and trade across continents, and the sharing of the wealth of knowledge of the sciences are contributing to the creation of a new international cultural Humanism; one that transcends race, religion, colour and ethnicity.


In the times of the Royal Society and Newton, the vector for the dissemination of the Mechanical Philosophy and Enlightenment had been Freemasonry; the vector for this cultural Humanism should also be Freemasonry. However, Freemasonry should begin with its own ranks, bringing tolerance to all, and removing any type of Masonic discrimination.


We do not suppose that Freemasonry will be purified of religious discrimination in the very near future. Nevertheless, we have to keep it on our agenda, so that it will not be forgotten; since only through that purification will Freemasonry become a truly human fraternity.


Akin, Asım (2009), Ezoterizm, Ülkü Kitabı (s.135-146), Ülkü Locası Yayını, İstanbul.

Belton, John (1999), Belief not required?, The Square, Lewis Masonic, Surrey.

Hamming, James, David Pollock and Wendy Kaplan (1972), Hümanizma Üstüne Konuşmalar (Çev. Vedat Günyol), Çan Yayınları, İstanbul.

Henderson, Kent and Tony Pope (1998), Freemasonry Universal (Cilt 1), Global  Masonic Publications, Australia.

Henderson, Kent and Tony Pope (2000), Freemasonry Universal (Cilt 2), Global Masonic Publications, Australia.

Koray, Tanju (2009), Ezoterizm ve Masonluk, Ülkü Kitabı (s.112-122), Ülkü Locası Yayını, İstanbul.

Kurtlutepe, İlker (2009), Ezoterizm, Ülkü Kitabı (s.209-213), Ülkü Locası Yayını, İstanbul.

Layiktez, Celil (2005), Ritler, Mimar Sinan Yayınları No. 24, İstanbul.

Pope, Tony (2009), Brothers under the skin, Paper presented at the First Intrernational Masonology Workshop (23 December 2009, Ankara).

Sanver, M. Remzi (1997), İnisiyasyonun Metodolojisi ve Masonluk, Ülkü Locası Yayınları No.8, İstanbul.

Sanver, M. Remzi (2000), Muntazam Masonluk ve İnanç, Yenilik Basımevi, İstanbul.


[1] Coil’s masonic Encyclopedia, 1961, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 60-53289 (Religion: p. 513)

[2] This issue is addressed by Layiktez (2005).

[3] Sanver (2000) analyses the evolution of the Belief condition in Freemasonry which is further evaluated by Belton (1999).

[4] Grosse Landsloge der Freimauourer  von Deutschland The other four German Grand Lodges, attached to the United Grand Lodges of Germany, are open to all religious beliefs.

[5] The Grand Lodge of Finland labours using the American Webb Rite, New York version, open to all religious beliefs.

[6] the other Rites used in this Grand Lodge are open to all religious denominations.

[7] The Grand Lodge of Denmark also uses Emulation.

[8] For an account of Grand Lodges worldwide, see Henderson and Pope (1998, 2000).

[9] Pope (2009) brings an analysis of racial discrimination in Freemasonry.

[10]Both the content and the style of the Cooke and Regius manuscripts, which are among the most important documents of Operative Freemasonry, seem to confirm our thesis.

[11] One can see Akin (2009), Koray (2009), Kurtlutepe (2009) and Sanver (1997) for various analyses of the understanding of Esotericism within Freemasonry.

[12] As a classical resource about Humanism, one can see Hamming, Pollock and Kaplan (1972).

[13] The citations from Sartre and Aristo are quoted from the 1972 issues of Humanisme published by Grand Orient de France.

Short Biography of the Speakers


Celil Layiktez has published technical articles and booklets dealing with welding technology addressing both engineers and welders. He taught welding technology at the Marmara University, initiated welding courses in the frame of industry - university cooperation. He was the President of the Turkish Chess Federation, member of the board of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) and president of the South-East European Zone. At a different time he was the President of the Turkish Bridge Federation. In 1998 he published "The Light of the Middle Ages".
As to his masonic career, he was initiated in 1964, Worshipful Master in 1972, elected as Grand Officer in 1992, was in charge of foreign relations in 1998. He left the Board of Grand Officers as Assistant Grand Master, but continued to labour in the Foreign Relations Committee; he was the Grand Representative of Columbia, Tasmania until 1996, then the Grand Representative of the UGLE in Turkey. The GLNF gave him the honorary title of Assisant Grand Master of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Provence. Since 1968 he is a member of the research Lodge Mimar Sinan (Sinan the Architect) and the secretary of QC in Turkey. Later on he served also as local secretary for the research lodge of the Grand Lodge of Victoria. His articles were published in the transactions of both research lodges and also in the Pietre Stones Masonic web site. He has 55 articles printed in Mimar Sinan. He published the History of Freemasonry in Turkey (three volumes) and recently the "Masonic Profile" which contains 120 answers to possible charges by curious outsiders or antimasons. Since 1992, he is the editor of the Masonic quarterly Tesviye (Level). In order to replace the archive material that had been lost in the tumultous history of the craft in Turkey, he recovered copies of the complete archive files relative to Turkey from the Grand Orient of France, the UGLE, the Grand Lodges of Scotland and Ireland and partly Greece.


Born in Istanbul in 1970, Remzi Sanver graduated from the Department of Industrial Engineering of Bogazici University. He received a Ph.D. in Economics in 1998 from the same university and thenceforth he is a faculty member at Istanbul Bilgi University where he holds the title of professor since 2006. He is assigned as the president of the same university on April 2011. His research on the application of mathematics to social sciences is published by prominent scientific journals of the area.
Remzi Sanver was initiated to Freemasonry in 1991 at the Ulku Lodge No. 3, working under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Turkey. He has been conducting research on Freemasonry for over 16 years. The reevaluation of initiation and esotericism under the illumination of 21st Century's accumulated scientific knowledge has been in the core of Sanver's research which led to three monographs entitled "The Methodology of Initiation", "The Story of Those Who Search the Light" and "Regular Freemasonry and Belief". Also, he made presentations in several lodges on various subjects such as "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow of Freemasonry", "Regularity and Recognition in Freemasonry", "Freemasonry and Democracy", "On our Rituals", "Education in Freemasonry", "The Fourth Pillar", "Freemasonry in the axis of physics and metaphysics", "Definition and Interpretation in Freemasonry", "The steady and impervious structure of Freemasonry", "Freemasonry and Society".
Remzi Sanver who is a member of the Mimar Sinan Research Lodge has also served for two years (2007-2009) as the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Turkey. Since June 2010, he is the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Turkey.

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