The True History of Freemasonry
A Brief Look Back on the Most Legendary Fraternity in the World
In the 12th century, a number of charitable Christian confraternities emerged on the British Isles, some of which were stonemason guilds. The members of those groups were fine upstanding men, who took care of each other and their communities. The masons also began to use their trade, as an allegory for life, thereby sculpting their souls with symbols. They even used stonemason mauls to call their meetings to order. In line with that, Kilwinning Abbey apparently became the Mother Lodge of Masonry in or around the year 1140. It’s actually so old that it’s number 0 on the Roll, not number 1. Then, centuries later, in the year 1598, at Stirling Castle in Scotland, King James ordered his advisor, William Shore, to organize all the stonemasons. He wanted them to repair all the buildings that had been damaged or destroyed in medieval wars. More importantly, this was all done in an effort to rebuild society as a whole. To try and make it happen, Shore became the Master of Works atop Castle Hill in the Stirling Sill. Then, he introduced two sets of statutes that would serve as standard regulations for the building trade. The first set came out that same year, with another the following year, making them the founding pieces of documentation for the Masons.
According to the oldest known lodge minute book in world history, in January of 1598, the very first recorded meeting of Masons took place at Aitchison’s Haven Lodge. It was an induction ceremony for a new member of the operative Masons, although little is known about what exactly happened that day. It’s more important to understand that this doesn’t date back to the ancient builders of Solomon’s Temple thousands of years ago, in spite of what certain narratives would have you believe. The truth is that the allegory of Hiram Abiff is a mystery play. It’s not history. Similarly, Freemasons didn’t build the Tower of Babel. Along with that, the Masons didn’t grow out of the Knights Templar Crusaders, as some have claimed. Also, Jesus was not a stonemason, or a Mason. Finally, Adam certainly wasn’t the first Freemason on Earth, nor even a real person for that matter. The fact is that there is nothing that would indicate that the Masons emerged in any other time or place than that of Scotland in the Middle Ages, especially not in Biblical times.
More importantly, the stonemasons came together to protect trade secrets not to take over the world, and they called that specific set of information the Craft. So, it is said that they are a “society with secrets” not a “secret society”. Of course, in order to identify themselves to other Masons, the fellowship of brethren developed things like special handshakes, known as Masonic grips. Along with this, each level of Masonry also has a Masonic word that goes with it. For instance, in many lodges, an Entered Apprentice uses the word “Boaz”, which was the name of one of the two main pillars in Solomon’s Temple. This was important because, since the stonemasons had to move all over the kingdoms in search of work, those kinds of things helped them to prove what they were able to do without having to do it all as proof. After all, a mason would typically train as an apprentice for seven years, while simultaneously the Mason would be an Apprentice for just as long. This gave them extensive knowledge of both physics and metaphysics, which eventually became their closely guarded secrets.
As part of that legacy, in May of 1641, Sir Robert Moray became the first person in history to enter a Masonic lodge having never once spread mortar with a trowel in his entire life. In that way, the Masons became the Freemasons in the Lodge of Edinburgh. That marked the beginning of the speculative era of Freemasonry in Scotland when Masons no longer had to be masons. Then, in June of 1646, Elias Ashmole became the first English speculative Mason to be “accepted”, which must have been a tremendous honor for him, just as it was for Moray. This is when things like philosophy and philanthropy really started to flourish in Freemasonry, with the influx of the aristocracy. Decades later, in 1717, four London lodges came together to form the first Grand Lodge. Regardless, the point is that the Order of Free and Accepted Masons, or Freemasons, turned what was a tradesmen’s guild into a fraternity for gentlemanly socialization, moral edification, and intellectual recitation. This is where we get the Masonic phrase, he is “on the level”, due to the association that it has with masonry.
With that said, in time, every adult male who believed in the Supreme Being was eligible to become a Freemason, although they were primarily from the upwardly mobile middle-class, as opposed to the lower or even upper classes. Along with this, most Freemasons began to think of God as the Grand Architect, or the Great Architect of the Grand Design. This is what the “G” in the famous square and compasses stands for. So, in essence, they were just using the Craft to make sense of the world around them, based on things like the sacred geometry of Christianity, for instance. After all, these were once the builders of cathedrals that we’re talking about. So, everything was viewed through the lens of masonry, which then became Masonry. Furthermore, based on that symbolism, Freemasons are taught to build themselves morally upright. Just as a blueprint must be used to make a building, so too must the Masonic codes of conduct be followed to build character. Ultimately, the goal is to make Freemasons better men through rites of passage that lead to personal development.
Ritualistically speaking, Freemasonry consists of three degrees or levels of initiation, titled Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason. The first two degrees date from well before the 18th century, while the third degree was created in the early 18th century. That is to say, the last level of “Blue Lodge” Craft Masonry was created from documents once passed on to the Worshipful Master of a lodge upon installation. Of those, the first two degrees are based on the ceremonies that were used to initiate members of Scottish stonemasons guilds in the Middle Ages. After that, the ritual for the third degree consists of the enactment of the medieval legend of Hiram Abiff, the chief architect of King Solomon’s Temple, who was purportedly murdered by his apprentices. In line with this, Freemasons advance from one degree to another by memorizing a catechism about the symbolism of each degree. They also have to demonstrate their knowledge of the grips, passwords, and other signs of recognition that the Masons inherited from the masons. In certain Masonic traditions, Master Masons can even go on to become higher ranking members as well.
Either way, as the men of the Middle Ages became Masons they began to live much better lives, so their numbers grew rapidly, spreading like wildfire throughout Europe, and then later all across the continents. In turn, this allowed many of those men to be part of society in a much more meaningful way than ever before. This is what makes the Freemasons a civic organization more than anything else, such as a scholarly book club or a group of theurgic occultists. After all, the lodges provide a perfect social platform for all Freemasons. In other words, this sort of equalizes the members behind closed doors, giving them connections that they wouldn’t have made otherwise. This usually tends to happen after the meetings, during what Freemasons call the Harmony. That’s when they dine, drink, and discuss things at length. It’s all done in the spirit of brotherly love, and it forms real-world bonds that extend far beyond the hallowed halls of the lodges. This conciliates genuine long-lasting friendship among them.
As a perfect example of how these interconnections can change the world in incredible ways, consider the following accounts. In the 18th century, a number of Freemasons tapped into the zeitgeist of revolution that was in the air, particularly in America and France. As part of that, in 1735, Benjamin Franklin became the head of St. John’s Lodge in Philadelphia. After that, a couple of decades later, in 1753, George Washington became a Master Mason, eventually taking over the Alexandria Lodge in Virginia. Finally, Voltaire was initiated into Freemasonry in 1778. He attended the Nine Sisters Lodge in Paris, along with John Paul Jones and Lafayette, among many others who helped give rise to the American and French Revolutions. The problem was that this was so radical that it eventually led to the Anti-Masonic Movement in the 19th century when Freemasons went from being largely revered to largely reviled. As part of that, to this very day, any Catholic who becomes a Freemason does so at the risk of being excommunicated from the Church if the Vatican ever finds out.
Eventually, even the Nazis and the Soviets outlawed Masonry, along with Communist China and much of the Eastern Bloc. Regardless, Freemasonry spread far and wide until it experienced a rapid decline in the 20th century. That is to say, by the year 1900, there were more than eight million Masons worldwide, but that number had dropped to below two million by the year 2000. With that being said, to sum it all up, the history of Freemasonry seems to have covered three major phases. Of those, the first thing that happened was that there was the emergence of organized lodges of operative Masons in the Middle Ages. Then, the second thing that happened was that there was the admission of lay members into lodges as speculative Masons, or accepted Freemasons, during the Age of Enlightenment when many wealthy noblemen joined. Finally, the third thing that happened was the emergence of Grand Lodges with Grand Masters, thereby setting the stage for the Age of Revolutions. As far as I can tell, that is the true history of Freemasonry, without any mythology, explaining exactly when, where, why, and how it came to be.