Germany celebrates this year the Centennial of the death of her
greatest man of letters, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, as the United
States celebrates the bicentennial of the birth of George Washington,
her greatest General, Statesman and President.
Both were Freemasons!
It is a continual puzzle to Masons, why Washington’s biographers so
seldom - almost never - mention either his Masonic correspondence,
membership and Mastership; or the tremendous, if quiet, influence
which Freemasonry had upon his life, character and activities.
The same puzzle exists about the biographers of the great Germany
Poet. To an interested and understanding Freemason, his works are
replete with Masonic allusions; some of them obviously inspired by
Masonic teachings. To the Profane, this influence may be non-
existent; perhaps it is because so few of the passionate admirers of
the great German - who have sung the ever-increasing chorus of praise
for his life and labors - have been Masons, and therefore the
majority have no background of Craft understanding
Many of his biographers put great stress upon his stay in Strassburg
and his studies of Gothic Architecture, particularly under the
tutelage of the great thinker,, Herder, who is credited with
inspiring Goethe with his love - even his veneration - for Gothic
buildings. Freemasons will see in his stay in Strassburg, where the
great Gothic minister dominated his thought with its beauty, the
progenitor of that desire to know more of the Craft which had built
it - a desire to be gratified when he was thirty-one years of age.
He was initiated in Lodge Amalia, at Weimar (where he lived most of
his life and where he died) on the eve of the Feast of St. John the
Baptist, in 1780.
Just how or why he became a Mason we do not know; neither can we know
much of what impression his initiation made upon him. For it must
not be supposed that the Masonry practiced then by the Lodge Amalia
was the Masonry we know; although doubtless it held some of our
The Lodge at Weimar was then under the “Rite of Strict Observance,”
that curious compound of politics, religion and Knights Templarism.
Of this Rite, Mackey says:
“The Rite of Strict Observance” was a modification of Freemasonry,
based on the Order of Knights Templar, and introduced into Germany in
1754 by its founder, the Baron von Hund. It was divided into the
following seven degrees:
According to the system of the founder of this
Rite, upon the death of Jacques de Molay, the Grand Master of the
Templars, Pierre d’ Aumont, the Provincial Grand Master of Auvergne,
with two Commanders and five Knights retired for purposes of safety
into Scotland, which place they reached disguised as Operative
Masons, and there finding the Grand Commander, George Harris, and
several Knights, they determined to continue the Order. Aumont was
nominated Grand Master at a Chapter held on St. John’s Day 1313. To
avoid persecution the Knights became Freemasons. In 1361, the Grand
Master of the Temple removed his seat to Old Aberdeen, and from that
time the Order under the veil of Freemasonry, spread rapidly through
France, Germany, Spain, Portugal and elsewhere.
constituted the principal subject of many of the Degrees of the Rite
of Strict Observance. The others were connected with alchemy, magic,
and other superstitious practices. The great doctrine contended for
by the followers of this Rite was, that every true Mason is a Knight
The seeds of death were sown in the Strict Observance by its very
fundamental - that the “Unknown Superiors” supposed to be at its
head, would communicate valued esoteric, not to say occult, secrets
to its initiates. Obviously, no such secrets were ever communicated,
and on the truth of history vanquishing the fiction that Strict
Observance was really connected with the Order of Chivalry, the Rite
Luckily for Goethe’s feeling for the Ancient Craft had the
advantage of a great admiration for Lessing - indeed, for all we know
to the contrary, it may have been Lessing’s love for Freemasonry
which first led Goethe to seek the light. Goethe was far too broad-
minded a man, and much too deep a thinker, to condemn all that he
found good in the Lodge at Weimar, merely because it dropped from
under his feet almost as he secured a foothold!
Two years after Goethe’s initiation, the Rite of Observance received
its death blow, and Frederich Ludwig Schroeder, one of Germany’s
greatest actors and an ardent Freemason, brought his influence to
bear upon German Freemasonry. Dissatisfied then (as thousands of
devoted Freemasons are dissatisfied today when any one attempts to
“improve” upon ritual or doctrine) Schroeder, as Master of Lodge
Emanuel at Hamburg, resolved to attempt to complete reformation of
Masonry in Germany; to rid it of all its corruptions, “advanced”
degrees, spurious Rites and fantastic “side orders,” founded on
alchemy, Rosicrucianism, Hermetic philosophy; even upon magic and
His theory was that, despite the traditions of the Steinmetzen,
Freemasonry had begun in Gothic England and spread to the continent.
According to his belief, the English Book of Constitutions and the
English Ritual held the only pure Freemasonry. Securing a copy of
“Jachin and Boaz,” Shroeder translated it and made it the foundation
of that which speedily became known as Shroeder’s Rite or Shroeder’s
System. It was adopted by the Provincial Grand Lodge in 1801 and,
later, by many other German Lodges. The Hamburg Grand Lodge, under
which Lodge Amalia now holds, still works according to this system.
(How the “Gentlemen belonging to the Jeruselam lodge” who wrote the
pamphlet, would have turned in his grave had he known how his famous
expose was to be used!)
Otto Caspari, historian, Goethe admirer and Masonic enthusiast,
couples Goethe and Schroeder in the change of the working of Lodge Amalia. He says:
“Frederich Ludwig Schroeder was the man who, meantime, made his
appearance as the reformer of Freemasonry. He also went to Weimar
and succeeded in persuading Goethe and the Duke Carl Augustus to take
an interest in his system. Amalia Lodge accepted Schroeder’s system
and in 1808 opened its Temple again.”
“Jachin and Boaz” may be found in any good Masonic Library.
modern Freemason will miss much that he knows in its pages, and find
much that he does not know as Masonry; but he will see that many
essential Masonic principles are therein set forth.
Goethe remained a member of Amalia Lodge to the day of his death.
What was to him the “new system” must have made a far greater appeal
than the Rite of Strict Observance. Shortened, abbreviated, scanty
as is the Masonry set forth in “Jachin and Boaz,” to us who are heir
of the rich ritual and symbolism of Preston, Oliver, Desaugliers et
al; it is yet Masonic, which the Strict Observance can hardly be
considered to be in the light by which we moderns see. At any rate,
Goethe embraced the Schroeder system as the real and Ancient
Freemasonry, and it was this which influenced both his life and his
Because Goethe was a follower of Spinoza, ignorant fanatics have
falsely accused him of atheism; a charge as ridiculous as it is
unfounded. No one today finds Spinoza atheistic; no one ever read
Goethe to find anything but a humble man marveling at the greatness
of a nature he could not comprehend. Goethe stands awestruck before
creation; his characters are often blinded by the magnificence of the
cosmos. Goethe revered the Bible; merely because he could not accept
the narrow definition of God and heaven which were the professions of
his time, he has been thought by the ignorant to have denied the God
all his works praise by their spirit of reverence for nature and its
Throughout the works of this greatest of German poets - a genius so
stupendous that he is not infrequently bracketed with Shakespeare -
are countless Masonic thoughts, ideas, references and allusions.
Some of these, like those found in Kipling, are evidently conscious
Others - and these the Masonic student of Goethe
loves best - are as evidently without intent; they are but the
breathing into poem or drama of those ideas of life, death.
hereafter, moral principles and ethical doctrine, which, inculcated
by Freemasonry, were a part of Goethe’s life.
To English speaking Masons Goethe’s best known Masonic work is the
short poem “Masonic Lodge.” It can be found in any collection of
Goethe’s works, and in Volume Twenty of the Little Masonic Library.
It is given in full here, not only for purposes of short discussion,
but because, by some unaccountable and distressing error, the first
five lines, which are the keynote of the whole poem, are omitted in
the (1929) Clegg edition of Mackey’s Encyclopedia.
The Masons’s ways are A Type of Existence
And his persistence Is as the days are
Of men in this world. The future hides it
Gladness and Sorrow, We press still thorow,
Naught that abides in it Daunting us - onward.
And Solemn before us Veiled, the dark portal,
Goal of all mortal; Stars are silent o’er us
Graves under us silent. While earnest thou gazest
Comes boding of terror, Comes phantasm and error
Perplexes the bravest With doubt and misgiving.
But heard are the voices - Heard are the Sages,
The Worlds and the Ages; “Choose well; your choice is
“Brief and yet endless; “Here eyes do regard you
“In eternity’s stillness; “Here is all fullness,
“Ye have to reward you, “Work, and despair not.”
The word “thorow (first stanza) is an obsolete variant of thorough
meaning “through”, “forward,” “ahead,” or “onward.”
No short poem could more beautifully express the Masonic legend and
doctrine; of continuity from “time immemorial;” of hope so great that
though we ascend the Winding Stair of life without knowing whether
gladness or sorrow are hidden in the future, still we climb, pressing
ever onward, undaunted; of the terror and fear of the “grim tyrant,”
the voiceless grave, the unrevealed mystery; of the comfort and hope
of the immortal voices from sage, experience, history and nature; of
those “eyes” which “regard you” from beyond - does not Freemasonry
teach of an All Seeing Eye? - of that “all fullness” of the future
which is ours if we “choose well” - choice brief as a moment, result
endless as eternity! And finally, that courageous, inspiring closing
admonition - “work” - and despair not!”
It is impossible to compress the mighty allegorical drama of Faust
into a paragraph as to do the same for Hamlet. Goethe did not invent
the character of Faust, nor did the legend of his “selling himself to
the devil.” Faust was an actual historical character, a “scoundrelly
magician and astrologer” about whom many legends clustered. In 1587,
Faust appears as the hero of a popular book in the pride of his
strength and knowledge. He sells his soul to the devil in return for
a life of pleasure, luxury and gratification of desire on earth.
Goethe added to the old legend a tender and tragic love story and
wove into it a philosophic content entirely foreign to the material
which began as an old wives tale, expanded into a plot for puppet
shows, and finally became a popular book. He makes of Faust a
student and a thinker, but also a man, with all of man’s desires.
Mephistopheles is the wile and specious tempter; Margaret is part of
the bait. Throughout the tragedy the struggle for ascendancy between
good and evil is made manifest, just as in the Masonic drama. It is
here that the keen student of Freemasonry and the lover of Goethe
finds so many contacts between mind of the poet and teachings of
As in the Legend of Hiram Abif, Faust at last finds
that evil may not forever strive successfully with good; his final
and greatest satisfaction is not in selfish pleasure, which means
death for the soul, but in work for humanity.
Difference of language, of Rite, and of age; make Masonic parallels
in Goethe’s works and the story and ritual we know, anything but
literal. Such a study of an author is not for the literal minded.
To read Goethe literally is on a par with scanning Hamlet’s soliloquy
for knowledge of the physical phenomena of sleep! To discuss the
Legend of Hiram Abif from a literal standpoint is wholly to miss its
significance and its beauty. Goethe makes of his great character an
allegory; allegorically, Faust and Hiram are not unalike. Though
one first resists while the other first yields to severe temptation,
in the end the same lesson is taught by both - that truth overcomes
error and evil, and that the divine is always within humanity do we
but seek far enough.
However, it is not only in Faust, the greatest of his works, that the
interested Freemason will find the influence of the gentle Craft upon
the great German poet. Wilhelm Meister’s progress is through what
may be called a series of Apprenticeships (at least they are periods
of learning) to a stage of “further light” in which he learns that
only by reverence for God, man and self can a firm character
foundation be builded. Werther, Edmont and Gotz von Berlichingen,
are all exemplars of thee poet’s concern for inner spiritual freedom.
Iphigenia denies the traditional barriers of race and religion, just
as does Freemasonry today (and has ever since the Mother Grand Lodge
Both poet and Fraternity contend for the right of the
individual to erect his own spiritual plumb line, as told by Amos of
the Jehovah of old who said, “I will set a plumb line in the midst of
my people Israel, I will not again pass by them any more.” In Tasso.
the hero is seriously threatened with political and social powers but
overcomes them by faith in the God-given powers within him.
It may be argued that as these themes of poets and playwrights of all
ages, there is no more reason for ascribing a Masonic origin for them
in Goethe’s works, than to reason that Shakespeare must have been a
Mason because in many of his plays truth overcomes error, wrong is
supine against right and virtue triumphant over evil.
The difference is that we know Goethe to have been an interested,
thoughtful and zealous Freemason; Lodge Amalia celebrated the
fiftieth anniversary of his initiation with the aged but still
vigorous poet taking part in the celebration.
Of this important
event in Goethe’s life, Brother Otto Caspari has beautifully written:
“On to old age he remained the intellectual center of Amalia Lodge.
It was a sacred and hollowed day when Goethe celebrated his fiftieth
anniversary in the Temple Weimar. There he stood, the great and
venerable poet, who had lived to see so much - the symbol of true and
pure human love, no hypocrite, openly confessing his human
weaknesses, but relying on his noble, good and imperishable heart, or
which it has been said Goethe’s heart, which but few people knew, was
as great as his intellect, which everybody knows.
It must have been an impressive moment, when the grand old Mason,
after receiving numerous ovations, responded by citing that
Masonic poem which shows us clearly how he, an aged man, had
retained eternal youth and love in his heart. He praised
Freemasonry as the sublime and everlasting union of humanity.
The greatest of men have to die; Goethe was called to the Celestial
Lodge above on March 22, 1832.
Pathetically, yet most beautifully, his last words were Masonic -
Masonic in the language of the Craft of all Freemasons of all lands
and all Rites know. Perhaps this cry was but a physical craving for
increased illumination as his eyes failed him. But thinking of his
life, and the stupendous gifts he made to mankind, the urge to learn,
to know, to reach out into the unknown for the solution of all
mystery, which breathes through many of his poems and dramas, it is
difficult to think of them except as symbolic of the man, his works,
his Freemasonry and his character.
With his last breath, Goethe cried the immortal phrase
ANOTHER POEM BY GOETHE
This fine poem is given by Goethe amongst a small collection of
what he calls Loge (Lodge), meaning thereby Masonic pieces.
A SYMBOL. (1827)
The mason's trade Observe them well,
Resembles life, And watch them revealing
With all its strife,-- How solemn feeling
Is like the stir made And wonderment swell
By man on earth's face. The hearts of the brave.
Though weal and woe The voice of the blest,
The future may hide, And of spirits on high
Unterrified Seems loudly to cry:
We onward go "To do what is best,
In ne'er changing race. Unceasing endeavour!
A veil of dread "In silence eterne
Hangs heavier still. Here chaplets are twin'd,
Deep slumbers fill That each noble mind
The stars over-head, Its guerdon may earn.--
And the foot-trodden grave. Then hope ye for ever!"