Freemasonry is without a doubt the most misunderstood, misrepresented centerpiece for every sort of fantastical, paranoid and flat out apeshit speculation since the poor Knights Templars found their medieval history rewritten into one insane yarn after the other.
But wait! It was Freemasonry that invented these very fantasy stories about the Knights Templar. And while there are many fingers to point at why Freemasonry is the target of such utterly balls out loony stories: anti masonry organizations, the Catholic Church (hates freemasonry, automatic excommunication if you join a Lodge) and just plain idiotic, gullible or sneakily savvy faux “researchers” who can’t resist incredulous speculation, Freemasonry itself bears a large responsibility for all the tall tales.
Mention Freemasonry and you might hear several different things: they’re behind some kind of political plots back in the day, they’re behind the American revolution, the French revolution, they’re part of the secret society that plots and runs the world (One World Government, Elders of Zion, Illuminati, etc), they’re descended from the Knights Templar, they’re descended from the builders of ancient Egypt, they’re descended from the builders of the Tower of Babel, from the builders of Solomon’s Temple, the whole thing was invented by Cromwell…
They’re an occult society, they’re an occult society but you only get to the occulty things when you get to the high levels, they’re behind Jack The Ripper, they’re behind the Gnomes of Zurich and the global banking system and proof can be found as hidden clues on the American dollar bill.
Whew! I can’t keep up with all this crap. So where does it come from?
Well, ignoring the political stuff which comes from anti masonic sources and conspiracy buffs and which we’ll get into tomorrow (and in any case, all talk of politics is outright forbidden inside any Lodge), the stuff that has religious and fantastical connotations comes from Masonry itself.
Let’s stop being coy and start talking about what Freemasonry really is.
Freemasonry is a fellowship of men (and in some forms like Co-masonry both men and women) who believe in a higher power and are interested in morality, self improvement and fellowship. The lodges use architectural symbols and signs of recognition passed down from the medieval stonemasons guild where it’s origins REALLY lay, along with a medieval morality tale about Hiram Abiff, the murdered architect for King Solomon’s Temple to teach members about morals, honor and respect for one another and Gd.
So where’s all the weirdness come in?
Freemasonry descends from a medieval stonemason’s guild of the British Isles. The guild used powerful initiation ceremonies to initiate its member into 2 degrees, Entered Apprentice and Fellow Craftsman. Religion was mixed into every aspect of daily life, it being the middle ages and all, and so religious morality was mixed into every aspect of the guild.
Masons as part of the guild were not bound to a specific land, they were “free” to roam from site to site constructing churches, cathedrals and large buildings requiring great skill on the part of the workers.
In the middle ages allegory was a part of daily life and the psyche of Europe. They saw allegory in everything. The Mason’s Guild for instance, wove allegory into the very tools of the trade. A level, protractor, the stone itself, all had meaning beyond just their tasks, they had spiritual meanings, and allegories were woven into deeply into the very craft.
During the late 1600s, especially near the end, the guild became less and less about working craftsmen and slowly began accepting outside members and focusing on it’s religious and moral themes. It added a 3rd degree, Master Mason.
In 1717 four lodges came together as a Grand Lodge and modern Freemasonry was born.
The initiations were powerful and affecting, the lessons deeps and compelling. The new Master Mason degree focused around a story where Solomon’s chief architect Hiram Abiff is killed (by 3 ruffians looking for the his secret Master Mason’s word which would give them the ability to pass as Master Masons) and his body hidden. The initiate, ritually acting out certain aspects of the story, must find Hiram’s body and recover it.
The story is rife with deep meanings and symbologies and Freemasonry refuses to attach one single meaning to it, leaving it open to interpretation and discussion. The experience of this degree was greatly impacting and the powerful experiences of Freemasonry’s rituals and the depths of the moral lessons led to a huge surge in Freemasonry compared to the many, many other fellowship clubs that dotted 18th century England.
Due to its religious guild roots, Freemasonry came with some intriguing origin stories. One of the oldest is thus:
Before the Flood, some guy named Lamech invented geometry and some other sciences. Fearing punishment for their sins, his disciples built two great pillars inside which they inscribed all the information they had learned. One pillar was built to withstand fire, the other flood.
Well, BOOM! Flood it was. Yet the pillar survived, and Noah’s great grandson, Hermes Trismegistus (the reknowned Hermes) discovered it and taught it to the Egyptians. From there it passed down to the builders of the Tower of Babel, who developed the signs of Freemasonry to communicate with each other using body language after Gd pulled the whole speech and language fiasco.
From there the knowledge was passed to Solomon and his builders and after building the great Temple of Solomon various Masons took the great and ancient knowledge to the four corners of the Earth.
What a story!
So this was the first origin story Freemasonry claimed. But after it began to spread to non builders, some of the upper classes began to join. The associations with manual labor was…ooh. No no no. A tad shall we say, demeaning? Surely old bean we can do just a bit better, hm?
So another origin myth got started, this one centering around the Knights of the Crusades holding sacred knowledge in the Promised Land from the heathens. This story was proposed by Andrew Ramsey in 1736. Soon afterwards the Knights in question were changed from the Hospitallers to the long forgotten Knights Templar, and THAT my friends is how the Knights Templar first found themselves at the center of ridiculous speculation about all sort of the comsic debris that annoys the living crap out of me. Seriously, bring up a conspircay theory involving the damn Knights Templar ONE MORE TIME and i will punch you. I will too. I will stop this car, come back there, and give you something to REALLY cry about.
But wait! There’s more! See, as Freemasonry grew each Grand Lodge operated independently from each other, so different lodges started coming up with different origin stories.
Furthermore, once you had completed the 3 degrees you were done with initiations. Initiations were REALLY REALLY fun. They were compelling, engaging, impacting and one could contemplate them deeply for some time after. So, where there is demand, there shall be supply. New degrees with new initiations and stories started popping up like wildfire. The most well known is the Scottish degrees, and it is because of the Scottish degrees that you may know of Freemasonry as going up to 33 degrees. However, during the 18th and 19th centuries somewhere around 2,000 different degrees were floating around various lodges, many not recognized by other lodges.
And that’s where a lot of the weird stuff comes from.
Stay tuned tomorrow for more Freemasonry extravaganza: either the Hanover and Jacobite kerfuffle, OR, my FAVORITE, the AWEsome Palladium Affair. Serious, the Palladium affair is one of the best historical tidbits i’ll ever tell you about.
Word to the Widow’s son, yo.