What is Freemasonry? and 10 Common Myths on What Freemasonry Isn’t by Duncan Burden

Guest Post by Duncan Burden

What is Freemasonry? and 10 Common Myths on What Freemasonry isn’t

1)Freemasonry is a Universal System

masonic symbol

Masonic Symbol: Square and Compass with G

A common assumption is that Freemasonry is so universal that every mason around the world practises the same Masonic structure and rituals, with possibly only native languages representing any concept of difference.

This simply is not true. For example, the United Grand Lodge of England, seen as the oldest Grand Lodge in the world, offers a system of Freemasonry that only uses three degrees, namely Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason (completed by the Holy Royal Arch), as such only uses four ceremonies. Even so, although only four rituals are used there are over a 100 different versions of those rituals officially practiced under this Grand Lodge.

Besides this example of Masonic diversity, the very structure of Freemasonry itself is not universal. For although the United Grand Lodge of England uses four ceremonies, the Grand Lodges of Scotland and Ireland include another ceremony called the ‘Mark Master Mason’, which is in some regions is offered before, or at times after, the Master Mason degree. In England the ‘Mark’ ceremony is available but only through a totally separate Grand Lodge, and is not recognised as part of ancient Craft Freemasonry, thus more evidence of Freemasonry hardly being universal.

This diversity expands even further when comparing the differences in structure and ceremonies with other countries, especially with America and France, whose differences are not only different to those practiced in the UK, but again within their own countries.

As such, it should be taken with extreme caution when a researcher claims Freemasonry points to any specific meaning due to the rhetoric of a degree, as that particular ritual may not be universal within its own region, let alone across the world.

2)A World Order of Freemasonry Exists

International masonic order

Many conspiracy theories rest on the concept that Freemasonry is an international organisation, implying that there is central command, and/or an international agenda, exists. For virtually every Freemason this is instantly considered humorous, due to their own experiences and practical knowledge of Freemasonry.

Indeed Freemasonry exists across the world but to say it is a global organisation is like saying that just because football clubs exist across the world there must be a singular international authority that governs them all. Indeed there are separate organisations that govern groups of Masonic bodies, just as there are with the example of football, but not a singular government, and, due to the differences in Freemasonry, such a singular governing body could not exist.

A simple investigation into what is called the ‘Recognition’ of Masonic bodies would point out that, although Masonic lodges exist around the world, it does not mean a Freemason is free to visit them all.

For example, an English Freemason, when travelling abroad, is required to check with his Grand Lodge that the Lodge he wants to visit is ‘recognised’, meaning not all Masonic Lodges are regarded as being authentic, or to use more precise terms ‘regular’ and ‘recognised’.

Every Lodge is expected to be governed by a Grand Lodge, and it is a Grand Lodge that gives authority for a Lodge to be formed, and to ensure that the criteria of that formation is correct and met. In addition, the Grand Lodge itself is meant to be recognised as being formed correctly and this is often through the ‘recognition’ of existing Grand Lodges.

There are various elements that need to be in place for a Grand Lodge to be seen as ‘regular’ and ‘recognised’. A crude explanation of what this means is that the rituals a certain body of Freemasonry practices and the rules of membership are consistent with existing recognised systems. Yet as some Grand Lodges have different rules of membership, but are also ‘recognised’, means that it’s an international mix that some regular Grand Lodges are recognised by some and not others, and vice versa.

One of the most prominent examples of this is the lack of international recognition relates to the oldest Masonic Grand Lodge in France, namely the ‘Grand Orient de France’, whose differences in membership regulations leaves it deemed ‘irregular’ and ‘unrecognised’ by the vast majority of Grand Lodges around the world.

Other examples can be found around the world, and the concept is in continual flux, with different Grand Lodges falling in and out of recognition.

As such, how could a super-secret ultimate Grand Lodge exist to govern all of Freemasonry when the actual recognition of individual Grand Lodges is not constant within Freemasonry itself? In addition, in England, only one official Grand Lodge is recognised to exist, there is no recognised singular Grand Lodge of America. When this has been suggested to American Masons, to assist in the unification of recognition, the concept has been totally rejected by all recognised Grand Lodges, with a clear concern that no governing body should ever exist, nor that any Grand Lodge should relinquish its sovereignty. As such, it does rather seem to imply that no such governing body could or does exist.

Hence the reason why most Freemasons smile at the notion of a secret-supreme governing body, it is because we can’t even travel between lodges due to differences in structure and authority.

3)There are 33 degrees in Freemasonry

Another regular element promoted in ‘alternative’ interpretations, or understandings of Freemasonry is that is contains 33 degrees.

A useful example to address this flawed understanding is again to refer to the Freemasonry governed under the United Grand Lodge of England, which, as mentioned previously, literally states that Freemasonry consists of only three degrees and clarifies ‘three degrees only’ in its Constitutional Books given to every English Freemason. As such, not 33, well certainly not under the oldest Grand Lodge, nor the Irish or Scottish Grand Lodges.

The notion of 33 degrees is only found in something called either ‘The Scottish Rite’, or ‘Rose Croix’, and what should be understood is this Rite is not universally practised and is not the only additional Rite (or alternative system of ‘advanced’ degrees) that is available to Masons.

So what are ‘advanced degrees’ or ‘Rites’?

It is actually rather universally understood in Freemasonry that Craft (or ancient) Masonry does indeed only consist of 3 degrees, namely Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason. There are indeed slight variances in what makes up these degrees around the world, as mentioned before, the United Grand Lodge of England includes the Holy Royal Arch as being part of the Master Mason Degree, while in Ireland and Scotland they include the Mark ceremony, but not in England, and in America the Holy Royal Arch is not included, but all recognise that, one way or another, true Freemasonry is ultimately three degrees and ends with the title of Master Mason.

Yet, for different reasons, including financial, political and personal, different characters in history developed (introduced, or some claim ‘restored’) additional masonic material beyond the Master Mason degree. This was relatively easy to do due to the popularity of Freemasonry (namely the first three degrees), and, due to this ease, various systems and additional rituals became adopted and supported and are now seen as ‘advanced degrees/rites’, as they ‘advance from’ the Master Mason status. Due to the mass of material, and different passions and support, not a singular set of these additional rituals developed, instead around the world, various systems came to be established. For example, in America, the two most common sets are ‘The Scottish Rite’, (or ‘Rose Croix’) or ‘The York’ (or ‘American’) Rite – but only ‘The Scottish Rite’ offers a system that uses any numbering system, one that leads up to a 33rd degree.

All these different systems are only really historically ‘Masonic’ due to the fact that to join them you need to be a ‘Master Mason’, and so are ‘Masonic’ by default. Yet, the argument could exist that due to how long they have now existed, they are now ‘masonic’ by tradition.

Yet, with regard to the first three degrees, to appreciate how all these various systems could be seen to relate to ‘Craft’ Freemasonry, the following analogy could help…

Imagine that an individual’s desire to join Freemasonry was to learn how to play ‘Chess’. Then the Entered Apprentice degree would be the equivalent of learning how to play ‘Checkers/Draughts’. As such, an individual learns firstly if they may like this style of board game and has the first appreciation of the style of tactics which is the basis of ‘Chess’.

Following  this the individual could be expected to engage with the game of ‘Chess’ itself and be introduced to the complexity of the pieces and the rules of the game – which is represented by the Fellow Craft degree.

This obviously would climax in mastering the game, of being able to play without instruction, namely the Master Mason degree.

As such, if this was the goal of joining Freemasonry, to learn how to play ‘Chess’, by reaching the Master Mason degree, you have completed that desire and the system of being taught is complete. For many, like learning the game of Chess itself, just being taught is not the end, you then spend the rest of your life enjoying the game and teaching others how to play.

Yet, for some, even though this is complete, they may have discovered an enjoyment in learning board games in themselves, and look to find similar games to learn, be challenged by and enjoy. As such, could learn ‘Chinese Chess’, which could be represented by ‘The Scottish Rite’, or perhaps ‘Japanese Chess’, which could be represented by the ‘York Rite’. Each of these games, to be taught, ideally needs a basic understanding of the primary game of ‘Chess’, both are similar to ‘Chess’, but both are different to each other. They can be enjoyed as a continuation AND an alternative to Chess, but neither are Chess itself, or superior to it.

I hope that has proven useful, as such, the addition 30 degrees are not universal to Freemasonry, but are rather just an additional option of interest to Masons. Some Masons do like to flaunt the concept of being 32nd or 33rd degree Scottish Rite masons, which is an achievement, as it does show a true element of dedication, but it would be incorrect to consider them superior or technically ‘high-ranking’ Masons, as they would only be recognised as such within the Scottish Rite organisation.

4)There is a definitive High Ranking Freemason

what is freemasonry

George Washington Masonic print

As several of the previous points may have already indicated, Freemasonry is hardly universal, as such, with the many systems of Freemasonry (both regular and not), we can see the first dilemma of a unified understanding of the term ‘High Ranking Freemason’.

As mentioned in the previous point, a Mason who has attained the 32nd or 33rd degree in ‘The Scottish Rite’  may be perceived as a high ranking Mason within that order but that would be of little significance to a ‘York Rite’ Mason, and would hold no influence of rank within a Craft Lodge.

The only influence a Mason could hold over their Craft Lodge would only be relevant to whatever ‘office’  a Mason held within the Lodge, and most ‘offices’ within a Craft Lodge are held by Masons of the same degree, that of a Master Mason. The only office of any real influence would be that of the Worshipful Master of a Lodge, who normally only holds the office for a year, and when they relinquish the office, and then hold the title of Worshipful Master, their degree rank remains as ‘Master Mason’. Indeed, a W.M. may be given a Grand Office Rank, but they still remain a ‘Master Mason’.

As such, the term ‘High Ranking Mason’, is questionable, if a person is described as being as such it is best to enquire by which means do they define that status? Do they mean in their masonic advancement in degrees, or other masonic bodies? Or are they referring to their position within their own Lodge or perhaps their official position within the governing body of their particular jurisdiction of Freemasonry?

5)There are no Women Freemasons

This is not universally true, as confirmed when the United Grand Lodge of England issued following statement on the 10th March 1999:-

“There exist in England and Wales at least two Grand Lodges solely for women. Except that these bodies admit women, they are, so far as can be ascertained, otherwise regular in their practice. There is also one which admits both men and women to membership. They are not recognised by this Grand Lodge and intervisitation* may not take place. There are, however, discussions from time to time with the women’s Grand Lodges on matters of mutual concern. Brethren are therefore free to explain to non-Masons, if asked, that Freemasonry is not confined to men (even though this Grand Lodge does not itself admit women).”

(* meaning that a member of the United Grand Lodge of England cannot visit such a woman’s, or mixed, Lodge, and they are not permitted to visit a UGLE lodge whilst in session. – author’s note.)

This announcement confirms the official stance of Female Freemasonry and Female Masons by the United Grand Lodge of England, that it happily acknowledges that Female and mixed Freemasonry do exist, and that (for the Grand Lodges referred to) the Freemasonry they perform is deemed ‘regular’, meaning that the practices are the same, or highly similar, to those practiced in male Freemasonry, and that they respectfully, and officially, discuss matters of concern with them. As such, Masonic organisations for women do exist.

Unfortunately it would have to be admitted that this respect to Female Freemasonry is not universal, many Brethren, especially in America are strongly opposed to the notion. The primary reason for this is due to the specific differences within their literal understanding of the Freemasonry they follow, which is promoted as being to make ‘good men better’, at times including a specific references to making them better husbands and fathers.

There are some versions of American rituals that literally state that they are forbidden to make a woman a Mason. For many, the simple reason of being told not to, is enough to consider the matter closed. Yet the full understanding relates to that notion that, for them, the ‘educational’ value of Freemasonry is specifically designed for men, and it’s not because a woman is not allowed to understand it, or that they could not understand it, but that it would ultimately be of little value to them as it is designed to make a ‘good MAN better’, and why would a woman want to be a good ‘Man’?, or a better husband or father?

Whether the moral, ethical and charitable lessons of Freemasonry are so generically defined is highly questionable, but there is at least one argument that exists as to why mixed Freemasonry could prove detrimental to the educational expectations of Freemasonry on good men.

This relates to a core principle of Freemasonry which is an adherence to harmony. Rules exist that it is paramount that all Masonic meetings must be conducted in harmony, if two masons have fallen out, even for reasons not masonic, they cannot stay within a Masonic temple, and must leave to compassionately settle their differences. Only if they succeed can either Brother return to the Lodge.

This is an enchanting challenge, as it encourages men to talk about their differences, and their desire to remain Masons means they must openly address these moments of conflict in harmonious behaviour, and not just hide and stew on these feelings.

Why the notion of women being in a Lodge could damage this ethical lesson is that, socially, a good man (mason or not) would automatically be inclined to behave ‘gentlemanly’ in the presence of a lady, and so would subdue any conflict with another man simply because of her presence. As such, the question could arise that conflicts would not be addressed but politely ignored, and not out of respect of any offended party, but simply because a lady was present. As such, the unique lesson of ethics would be lost and emotional challenge of men getting along for harmony itself would disappear, and as ‘harmony’ is a primary aspect of Freemasonry, not just to maintain it but to educate it and its benefits, to lose it would be a great loss to the Craft.

So, Female Masons do exist, and are, by most recognised Grand Lodges, respected and deemed regular, but the reason why mixed interaction is not permitted is because it effects on one of the foundation challenges of Freemasonry for a male mason.

6)Freemasons take oaths to protect each other, for financial gain, or to protect against criminal prosecution.

The shameful thing about this is that somewhere, at some point, someone has used, or attempted to use, their membership to Freemasonry for these reasons, but to say Masonic oaths enforce or promote this is not true.

Freemasons to take oaths, primarily to protect the secrets of the order, which are acknowledged within the ceremonies as simply being the methods of how one Freemason recognises another; namely the secret words and handshakes of the Fraternity. There are other aspects to the oaths taken; these include protecting the name and integrity of a fellow Mason as if it was your own and to support him and his dependents. Yet always with conditions that the support and defense is not detrimental to your own moral principles, to the Laws of God or the Laws of the Land.  Nor can support be given if it would be detrimental to your own obligations to your family, community or faith. At every time, the obligations to Freemasonry is last; faith, law (divine and national), family and community come first. Even financial obligations are first to your family needs, Freemasonry is last.

It cannot be denied that many Masons would actively choose another Mason to engage with in a professional capacity, but this is primarily because there is more incentive and assurance of an honest and good job done due to the possible damage to a fellow Mason’s reputation amongst his fellow Brethren.

It is generally universal, and especially supported in England, that Freemasonry should not be used for financial gain though, and the Craft’s reputation should be protected from any risk of that even being perceived to have being done. As such, any Mason found attempting, or in suspicion of, profiting from Masonic membership, or attempting to use Freemasonry to protect himself from legal prosecution,  is formally investigated, and, if found guilty, expelled and his expulsion is presented and recorded. In England this behaviour is strictly not tolerated.

7)Freemasonry dates back to ancient Egypt or Biblical times

square_and_compasses_5

The basis of this understanding comes from two viewpoints, frequently one used to support the other, but both being academically questionable (at least).

The first viewpoint is from literal interpretations of specific material, often very early manuscripts that are linked to Masonry.

The earliest material that appears to be describing an organisation of ‘Masons’ and directly uses terms recognisable to modern Freemasonry, would be such documents as the Regius Poem (or the Halliwell Manuscript) and the Matthew Cooke Manuscript.

These two documents were both composed around the 15th century and are accepted as being written to support bodies of Masons who are gathered in what are commonly now called ‘Operative Lodges’. These are groups of actual working Stonemasons who gathered into small guilds to work and teach collectively. Modern Masonic lodges are, obviously, not made up of actual Stonemasons, but of people from different occupations, and are referred to as ‘Speculative’, rather than ‘Operative’ Masons.

These documents, such as the Regius Poem and the Matthew Cooke Manuscript, would have been used by Operative Lodges to achieve several things.

  • Act as a list of rules for the Lodge, including moral and ethical codes conduct, requirements of membership and professional progression and rules of occupational behaviour and duties (mostly practical rules on health and safety and training).
  • Act as a document of authority, representing a Charter for which the Lodge could officially operate under.
  • Establish, or portray, a historic value to the Lodge and/or the trade of Masonry, for both marketing and gaining cultural approval.

It is the last point that has supported the misunderstanding of the rhetoric of these documents, as in both the Regius Poem and Halliwell Manuscript there is a colourful history of the development of Masonry, where a linage is traced from the Ancient Egyptians through to England and the English King Athelstan. In the Halliwell document in particular there is greater detail, tracing the progression of Masonry, and its art of Geometry, from the Biblical depiction of creation, to ancient Greece and on to the Egyptians, interspersed with Biblical events such as the Tower of Babel and King Solomon’s Temple, but then on to normal history of moving to France and again England and King Athelstan.

The problem is that some people have read these as real explanations, possibly even by some of those who later copied and perpetuated them, but it is extremely unlikely that those who composed them, and any educated person of the time (and later) who read them, ever expected them to be taken literally.

The reason for this assertion is due to the quality of the rhetoric, and composition, and when they were written.

During this period, even up until the early 19th century, this style of writing (when composing a supposed history of a ‘concept’) was a common and simple story-device to express a ‘homage’ to the antiquity of an idea or organisation. This was such a common way of writing that for most readers of the period it would not have deemed necessary to add ‘this is not a literal, or believed, account of the history’, as it would have been seen for what it was, a linguistic expression of intellectual appreciation. In modern terms, the principle of thought behind this explanation would be like saying ‘We like stonemasonry, and obviously the act of building with stone goes back all the way to ancient culture and even is present in our religious literature – so surely stonemasonry can be seen to an appreciated art throughout this time, and should be appreciated for this reason’.

The understanding of this literally style is recognisable even with Anderson’s own version of the history of Freemasonry in his 1723 book of Constitutions, as again, it was not meant, or expected, to be taken literally, but just this style of literal expression.

The trouble is this style of writing doesn’t exist anymore, and began to die away during the middle of the 18th century, just as the skill of reading become more open to all classes of society, including those who would have taken the words literally, and so the confusion began and perpetuates today.

The second viewpoint can be split into two parts.

  • An argument is often presented that because Freemasonry follows a concept that could also be seen in, say, ancient Rome, and because it is also seen there, then therefore Freemasonry must have originated in Rome.

This argument is flawed as it is the same as saying if one ancient village has proven it can count to ten, and then another village has counted to ten, then the first village MUST have taught the second, but in reality it is simply that counting to ten is a basic concept and one village just managed to master it first.

As such, just because Freemasonry works on the principle of supporting, say, charity and ethics, (two common ideals of cultured society), then to find another society supporting the same principles in pre-history doesn’t prove Freemasonry existed back then, but rather supports the notion that society acknowledges the culture we have of appreciating these qualities.

  • Another argument is presented that because classical symbols are used in modern Freemasonry, which echo those of an/the earlier society then it confirms that Freemasonry must have existed back then.

Not true. With a simply study of the development of Masonic rituals, and the adoption of its symbols, it shows that at the beginning of Speculative freemasonry, especially from material of the late 17th and early 18th century, these terms and symbols don’t exist. Instead we can see how they were later adopted when modern Freemasonry began to be more defined and regulated. As such, there is no proven line of symbolic use, but rather the common concept of retrospective appreciation.

This use of symbols is evident today, for example, the Rod of Asclepius a classical symbol attributed to medicine is frequently used for modern medical companies and organisations, this does not mean that the company dates back to ancient Greece, they simply draw the parallel between the classical value of the symbol and their modern intentions.

As such, there is no actual evidence that Freemasonry does, or really attempted to claim, that it ever dated literally back to ancient times. At most, an argument could be offered that the principles of which Freemasonry supports do date back to classical, possibly ancient periods, but simply because they are basic principles of civilised culture and are still relevant and appreciated. For those who claim that it is the very rhetoric and structure of Masonic rituals that provides the evidence, again should really look at the development of Masonic rituals, and note that the classical elements did not get added until after Speculative Freemasonry was established, and that no uniformity existed until Speculative Freemasonry was appreciated on a international scale. So it is like saying because Las Vegas has a pyramid, Las Vegas was situated on the same principles of the Pyramids of Giza, when in reality Las Vegas was situated for many other reasons that predate their own pyramid construction and even then the pyramid was added later for reasons of its own, but at least with a homage to Egypt and peoples passion for the mysterious.

8)Freemasonry is about Human Sacrifice and/or Resurrection

sunrise

The most famous ritual of Freemasonry has to be the Master Mason ceremony, the third Degree, in which the candidate takes on the role of a victim of a murder, but this has nothing to do with divine or human sacrifice.

Yes, the candidate is pulled out of a pretend grave (normally a sheet on the floor), but they are NOT resurrected! This is such a common misunderstanding, even amongst Freemasons themselves.

Craft Freemasonry is divided into three degrees, all of which designed convey lessons in morality, not just how to be moral, but also why!

Amongst other things, the three degrees represent the three stages of a human life. The first being birth and childhood which is represented by the Entered Apprentice ceremony, as such presenting the individual as someone innocent and ignorant of the ethics of behaviour expected of society, simply due to their youth. As an apprentice they are showing both their ignorance but also interest in learning and being a part of society (with the society of Freemasonry representing society as a whole). As such, in pretending to teach the student ‘masonry’, the degree reflects the social concept of teaching child ethics so that they will be both accepted into society and be useful to society.

The following degree is ‘Fellow Craft’ degree, which represents a stonemasons education being ended, and now free to work as a stone mason (and is responsible for his work). This symbolises adulthood, when an individual is expected to know what morals they are expected of them, and that, as an adult, they are no longer protected by the innocence of youth ignorance, but are now responsible for their actions and the consequences of them, to himself, his family, his community and to the judgement of his God.

In both these ceremonies the candidate proceeds through them as themselves, for, as in real life, they have already experienced being a child and are experiencing being an adult. Yet, in the third degree the lesson is about a moment in life they have not yet experienced, and so experience someone else’s moment, namely the moment of death. This is why they perform this ceremony pretending to be someone else, to learn from their experience, as they have not experienced this themselves (unlike the previous two rituals).

In the third degree, the Master Mason’s degree, the candidate pretends to be someone who is murdered because they won’t reveal a secret. Then, as a dead body, they are laid in a pretend grave. The story continues and their dead body is found and is pulled from the grave to be buried properly later, at this point the candidate STOPS pretending to be the dead person and being dead – so this being lifted from the grave is no act of resurrection. In fact, the text that follows this moment in most ceremonies, literally points out that they had just ‘pretended’ to die because the warning is that one day you will ‘die’ and as such you must be good as you can’t repent your sins after you die – which again clarifies this is not a reference to ‘resurrection’!

As such, the ceremonies have nothing to do with sacrifice or resurrection, just the reasoning that we should be moral, as death can come at anytime and after that final moment we can’t change the divine judgement due to us.

9)Freemasons Worship the Devil

The basis of this claim is intertwined by two concepts regularly related to Freemasonry.

The first concerns common jibes made between Masons when talking and joking about ceremonies, not only amongst themselves, but also with non-masons. Often they will make jovial comments such as ‘oh beware the goat’, ‘you are lucky the goat is sick today’ or ‘how are you with goats?’ The basis of this is to simply tease the listener, as by the tone of the statement it is generally taken that no goat is actually used, but by making the comment it does clarify that they, unlike the other person, do know what is about to happen, and almost cruelly are pointing out this fact.

When explained like this, it hardly seems a nice thing to say, as it can appear to be gloating, and sadly a few Mason’s do use it as such, but for the vast majority these jokes are normally excuses to use humour to avoid actually saying what goes on in the Lodge to preserve the mystery and protect their understanding of secrecy without offending the person asking, which could be seen as even more arrogant.

Yet it is the choice of referring to a goat that has been long debated, and the common theory is because of the animals horns and cloven hooves, which are so reminiscent of the classic images of devils and witchcraft, that the thought of them conjures an element of risk and magic to the unknown aspect of partaking in a Masonic ceremony. Unfortunately it is this primary reason that the joke is not always so innocently taken. For although in the UK and Europe, even though Witch-trials are a noted part of our social history, they are so removed from our daily expectation that if a reference to a witch is mentioned the first sensation of the word conjures a comical interpretation rather than an anti-religious one.

Yet in America this is not always the case.

To give an example, in England and Europe, the general acceptance of the word ‘cult’ would  first reflect a passion for a TV or Movie franchise, while in America it would first reflect an organisation that would possibly abduct an individual, take them to a remote location and brainwash them with extremist opinions. Both uses of the word are correct, but the initial impact of the word is extremely different.

As such, but not to the same extreme, is the difference in social acceptance of referring to secret rituals and goats.

The second commonly referred to element that supposedly links Freemasonry with devil-worship, is the use of the name ‘Lucifer’ in certain American Masonic workings and books.

This can be a sensitive topic from many angles, as the use and inclusion of the word relates to the Masonic input of 19th century Masonic writer Albert Pike and his influence on the practice and understanding of the Scottish Rite. As said previously in an earlier post, the Scottish Rite is only a singular form of practicing supposedly advanced Degrees of Freemasonry, as such its value and significance is not universally relevant, or even acknowledged, by a vast majority of Freemasonry around the world, so the inclusion of this word in this particular branch of Freemasonry cannot be said to represent the whole of the Craft, but simply this branch and this individuals opinion and influence on it.

The other cautious, or respectful, step to take when discussing Pike’s own work is to appreciate the different opinions of him, and his work on Freemasonry itself. The differences in opinion are so balanced for fore and against that for harmony it is frequently an avoided topic.

Many think his work is very much his own passions and interpretations, and hold little support from an angle of academic authenticity, whilst others value his contribution, and defend him as being the primary figure in unifying the Scottish Rite to what is recognised today.

Pike’s work is of a more esoteric understanding of Freemasonry, and for many Freemasonry IS esoteric and are stunned that some do not value it as such. Equally, there are those who do not see Freemasonry as so classically esoteric and are bemused by those who do. As such, many of the Scottish Rite, and thus Albert Pike supporters, are generally more inclined to be esoteric in their opinions. Although, another reason why his redefining of the Scottish Rite is accepted by those who become Scottish Rite Masons is because of human nature. If someone has dedicated their time to join and work their way through a system to gain the supposedly coveted 33rd degree, they are less inclined to question if that journey was authentic and worthwhile, than support the opinion that it was a simply the musings of an early 19th century gentleman. Equally though the argument could be made that ALL Freemasonry, ultimately, is the musings of someone, so why should we see Pike’s work so negatively, why are his ‘musings’ any less of worth than those – especially when he is so popular? Yet, a common gripe of Craft Masons in American is when some Scottish Rite Mason’s insist on using their Scottish rite degree as a title within Craft Lodges, as it is seen both as irrelevant (as the degree structure is only recognised in the Scottish Rite system and not in Craft), but also it often is seen as arrogant as it conveys an undo sense of superiority, which for many is the reason given as to why some join the Scottish Rite, as unlike other systems it clearly defines advancement in numerical order, thus gives the impression that a 32nd or 33rd Mason has completed all that there is to know about Freemasonry (which often is far from true, on a character level).

Even so, no matter which view point on Pike’s work is taken, both sides agree that Pike’s use of the term ‘Lucifer’ is not in anyway a reference to the name of the Biblical Satan, but that, when his relevant text is read in full, it is clear he is using it in the classical manner of referring to the ‘Bright Morning Star’, or ‘Giver of Light’, implying enlightenment. Indeed his choice could be seen as poor judgement, as in most cultures the instant thought would be of a demonic character, and the decision to be classically correct against running the risk of a misinterpretation, may not have been wise. Yet that is with the benefit of hindsight, and doesn’t change the fact that Pike’s was writing for a classically appreciative audience, and it is unlikely that he was expecting his work to be so openly accessible and/or mis-quoted.  Even though this classical understanding is frequently clarified, many still refer to Masons as Devil-Worshipers, and that the explanation is an intentional double bluff, that Masons are meant to accept it as classical meaning but are unwarily finding themselves unknowingly worshiping Satan. Yet, again that is not supported through a complete reading of the text, nor would it brand all Masons and Freemasonry as devil-worshipers as it is not even a term or text all use or acknowledge and it would mean that this singular word would be expected to counter-acted every theologically ethical comment found in Masonic ritual, regarding morality, charity and a respect for the God, let alone try to counter the primary quality for a Mason before even joining – namely a belief in God.

10)Freemasonry is a religion or anti-Religion

what is freemasonry masonic symbols

Freemasonry is certainly not a religion, but virtually all versions of Freemasonry do require a member to hold a belief in a supreme divine creator.

Only under the Grand Orient Lodge of France is this not required, which is why it is not recognised as true Freemasonry by the vast majority of other representative Grand Lodges around the world.

It would seem difficult to appreciate Freemasonry without a belief in a divine Creator, as a primary aspect to its teachings in morality is the risk of divine judgement after death, and if you don’t believe in God, and subsequently that final judgement, it rather makes the process redundant. Equally though, the processes work on the concept of appreciating divine creation, so again, without believing in divine creation (even a divinely inspired evolution system) would again make Freemasonry more than just slightly empty for an atheist.

Prayers and the presence of a recognised book (or books) of worship are used within Masonic meetings, empathising the concept of divine belief. The Masonic prayers are no different in significance to someone saying ‘grace’ over a meal, they are not specific to a singular faith, just a homage to God, goodwill and a simple moment of reflection on being grateful.

The Books of Worship, (or volumes of sacred law – as called by Freemasons) can be any recognised book relating to an individual’s faith. The most common representation is obviously a Bible, but depending those present, and the customs and choices of the Lodge, such books as a Koran or Torah can often be found being used. In some Lodges it is common practice to have a variety on constant display, due to the various faiths of the Masons present.

Freemasonry is not a replacement to any individual’s faith, or system of religion, instead it is just seen as a common foundation element which helps represent both a sense of unity between them and a foundation of common reverence that each Mason uses to take their oaths on. Although, also, as mentioned earlier, virtually all systems of Freemasonry use the basic principles of divine creation and divine judgement as fundamental tools to convey lessons in morality, charity and ethics.

As such, Freemasonry is not a religion, but, if anything, is designed to support an individual’s existing faith, and neither is it anti-religion as it encourages people to follow a faith, as a Mason must hold a personal belief BEFORE they are allowed to join.

So why are some church authorities against their congregation from joining the Freemasons. The primary reason is due to a theological concept called ‘Deism’. Deism is a theological idea that a person believes a god exists, but believed that deity does not interfere with the actual events of the world, nature or humanity. The consequence of this would then also mean that there is no concept of divine ‘revelation’, as this would be recognised as ‘interaction’, as such someone who held a deism belief would not believe in a divine origin or value to church, prayer, saints, prophets or divine texts, as they believe no interaction from ‘heaven’ would prompt or create it. Instead, their belief in God is through ‘reason’ and ‘logic’ and by looking at the world in an almost scientific approach they could possibly find ‘evidence’ that God exists because of very nature of existence, both physically and mentally.

This was the basis of argument against most scientists during the Spanish Inquisition, that anything that was deemed to be less divinely inspired, such as the Earth going round the Sun, as it could have undermined the authority of the church who was meant to be divinely governed, as such if the church was wrong about the nature of creation, then the church could not be governed by the divine intellect responsible for creation. Even if the scientific reasoning could be correct and the scientist still presented as evidence of divine creation (such as work Galileo, Kepler and Newton all who appeared to believe in Divine Creation), but simply that the church definition was incorrect, it was still condemned, as it presented the possibility that someone could find ‘God’ without spiritual guidance – or church guidance.

Freemasonry was, and still is by some, seen as Deism, that it encourages an understanding of God and creation through science and reasoning, instead of through spiritual guidance. This misunderstanding is mostly due to the regular use of Masons being told to study and use classical methods of education like the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences, and told to use them to ‘study and appreciate the works of the almighty’, as these principles relate to the classical methods of studying nature and divine creation, something that was the basis of a gentleman’s education from at least the Renaissance to the early 20th century. Yet, really, this is a principle called ‘Theistic Evolution’, and something that Freemasonry does use, which is to use science and reasoning to support your existing faith, not replace it, to be of a Free-mind to appreciate that creation is a mystery to be solved and as we advance so will our skill and ability to appreciate creation. Yet never losing the view point that creation is divine, meaning that even if creation is evolution and ‘Big Bang’ based, it is still working to a divine plan that each generation is learning more and more about.

Although, this is just a basis, a chassis, on which Freemasonry rests, the primary reason for the vehicle is to create an environment in which men can have the chance to enhance and appreciate the common qualities of faith, respect, morality and charity.

I do hope that these points have been interesting. It has been a challenge to write, as I wanted them to offer enough depth to be of worth, but so in-depth that the point is lost. Not sure I successfully hit the balance, but thank you.

 

~Guest Post by Duncan Burden

Duncan Burden has been a Freemason for most of his adult life and is a member of various Masonic bodies, such as the Royal and Select Master Masons, and Operative Masons. He is also a member of various Masonic Chivalric Orders, including the Knights Templar and Knights of the Red Cross of Constantine.

 

 

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7 Responses

  1. 23kachinas says:

    Very interesting read Duncan. Much appreciated! My brother is a Worshipful Master of our local lodge, and he is a wonderful man. He’s building a house for us this year near the parents one. Don’t you love full circles?

  2. Strawshadow says:

    Thank you Jenny and Duncan, interesting read.

  3. Buckeye Bob says:

    “A challenge to write” was exactly the thought I had as I read this, Duncan.
    I think you succeeded, and it was interesting to read.

    I’ve only known a few masons, but the things that sticks in my mind are honesty, self improvement, and teaching others if they have a mind to listen.
    I’ve worked for two masons (neither admitting it or talking about it), and these were their guiding principles from my perspective.
    Those were, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence, the two best jobs I ever had in a life of many hats. I learned more from them than anywhere else, and I loved working at those jobs because of the success story of them and the feeling that things were being done right. I was proud of working at both and have fond memories from each.

  4. Nate Beck says:

    An excellent article! All fine points from one of the finest gentlemen Masons I know!

    Bravo Duncan!

  5. Nate Beck says:

    Duncan,

    I’d like to see you write articles here on your favorite Masonic books, riddles, mysteries and symbols, and even your favorite Freemasons in history!

    That can be at least three more article ideas for you!

  6. DWRock says:

    Like all fraternities it seems a primary driving factor in membership to freemasonry is finding strength in community. The negative part is the allure of strength from a community that is exclusive.

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